The federal government enacted Megan's Law in 1996 as an amendment to Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. Megan's Law calls for each state to maintain a publically accessible registry of sex offenders, including their places of residence, in order to help protect citizens from being a crime victim.
In July of 1994, New Jersey's Kanka family faced an unspeakable tragedy when their 7-year-old daughter, Megan, walked alone into her neighbor's house with the hopes of seeing a puppy. It turned out that, unknown to the Kankas, that neighbor had recently spent six years in prison for attempted sexual assault of a child. He raped and murdered Megan that day. The Kandas worked tirelessly after Megan's death--obtaining a petition containing 400,000 signatures--to plead with New Jersey State Legislature to make the information about the location of sex offenders available to the public. In just 89 days, New Jersey passed "Megan's Law." In 1996, the U.S. Congress followed suit and passed Megan's Law on a national level, requiring all states to develop a procedure for notifying the public when a sex offender is out of prison and of his/her location.
The purpose of the sex offender registry is to help the public keep themselves and their family members safe. The Kankas state that, if they were aware that the sex offender lived across the street, their daughter would still be alive today. The registry allows for citizens to know who in their neighborhood may be dangerous so that they can teach their children and others at risk to be cautious around that person.
Each U.S. state passed Megan's Law in some form after Congress' actions in 1996. However, this means that the sex offender registry is different for each state, including the amount of information provided and how that state notifies the community that a sex offender moved to the area. As an example, California sends written notification to sex offenders just before their release back into the public (and copies the Department of Justice) of their duty to register. California requires registry updates annually, on the offender's birthday. Any time an offender moves, he/she must update information within five days. Homeless offenders must update their registry every 30 days, and those convicted of more violent sexual crimes, every 90 days.
There are several different types of sex offender registries. Each state provides access to a registry by various means, such as an internet searchable database, documents and/or maps. There are also national sex offender registries available to the public. The Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOFPW) is a collaboration between the state registries and the federal government to provide an all inclusive database for the nation.
Among the registrable sexual offenses are the following: kidnapping, rape (including rape of a spouse by force or fear), assault with intent to rape, sexual battery, enticing a minor female for prostitution, forced prostitution, incest, and/or sodomy. This list is incomplete, as there are actually a great number of crimes and circumstances with which someone commits a crime that can lend to deeming that crime a sexual offense. It is important to note that government requires only those convicted of sexual offenses to register.
The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 supplements Megan's Law by implementing sex offender registry requirements that classify offenders in three levels, based upon the risk to the community, and by expanding upon other laws set forth in Megan's Law, including the expansion of federal jurisdiction and new sentencing requirements.
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