Megan's Law Research Paper

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Megan's Law

Sex offenders are an increasing problem in the United States. The disturbing rape and murder of a seven-year-old little girl resulted in Megan's Law. Megan's Law was established to help warn community members of sexual offenders in their community. This paper presents the history of Megan's Law and what information is allowed to be released through the law. This is followed by a presentation of how states are implementing their version of the Law. Concerns about Megan's Law are overviewed. Lastly, the effectiveness of Megan's Law is discussed.

The catalyst for Megan's Law was the 1994 rape and murder of Megan Kanka. The seven-year-old girl "was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and then murdered by a man who had two prior convictions for sexual offenses. The murdered had moved in across the street from Megan's family, which was unaware of his past history" (Larson, 2003). The murderer, Jesse Timmendequas, had lured the little girl away with the promise of a puppy. Megan's mother and father, Maureen and Richard Kanka, founded the Megan Nicole Kanka Foundation. The goal of the foundation was to get laws passes that would ensure parents were aware when sexual predators lived in their neighborhoods. Eighty-nine days after the foundation was formed, New Jersey passed the first Megan's Law (O'Malley, 2009).

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On May 8th, 1996, the federal version of Megan's Law was signed ("Megan's Law," 2001), as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. It was sponsored by Senator Dick Zimmer. This piece of legislation requires states to implement sexual offender information release programs, for the public (O'Malley, 2009).

Early adopters of Megan's Law include Pennsylvania. Then Governor Tom Ridge introduced the new state legislation during a special legislative session on violent crime, in 1995. The Pennsylvania law had three purposes: "the identification of violent offenders (…), the registration of convicted offenders upon their release to a neighborhood, and the community notification procedures" (O'Malley, 2009). Pennsylvania's Megan's Law took effect in April of 1996.

Research Paper on Megan's Law Assignment

California also was an early adopter, immediately began drafting legislation to meet the new federal law. California had the unique challenge of having a large number of sexual offenders in the state, in addition to meeting the needs of state law enforcement and providing the best protection for their citizens. California's Megan Law was signed into law on September 25th, 1996. The law took effect immediately.

What Information is Available Under Megan's Law:

The information that is available, to the public, under Megan's Law differs greatly depending on the state. Most often, this information includes the name of the offender, a photograph, their last known address, and the basic information about the crimes they've been convicted of. In Pennsylvania, not only is the offender's residence address given, but also the city and state of their employer(s). A physical description is given, including their year of birth, gender, race, height, weight, eye color, hair color, and any discerning scars, marks and tattoos. The vehicle they drive is given, including the make, model, color, year, and plate number. The arrest information is given, with the type of offense, when the offender was convicted, and whether or not the victim was a minor. Lastly, alias information is given, if there are any known aliases the offender has ("PA Megan's Law," 2010).

Methods of Megan's Law Application:

Just as the amount and type of information that states release to the public differs greatly through the variations of Megan's Law, how this information is released to the public varies greatly as well. In many states, concerned citizens can go to a publicly accessible website. The website typically holds a database of offenders where users can search my name or geographic location, such as a city, county or zip code. In some states, like South Dakota, an interactive map is presented, where a citizen can input an address and the map shows points within a specified radius where known sexual offenders have listed their residence.

In some states, flyers about a sexual offender are given out, either by mail or by hand, when the offender moves into a neighborhood. For sexual offenders whose crime involves a minor, some states issue flyers to students in the nearby school systems, when an offender moves into their district. At the other extreme end of the spectrum, there are states that require concerned citizens to do much of the legwork themselves. "Some jurisdictions require that members of the public go to a designated location, such as a police station, where they are given a limited amount of time to review a sex offender database and to take hand-written notes about offenders who concern them" (Larson, 2003). In California, all county sheriff departments and all police departments, which serve populations of 200,000 people or more, are required to make a CD-ROM of registered sex offenders available to the public ("Megan's Law," 2001).

Concerns About Megan's Law:

There have been several concerns raised regarding the sexual offender registration and notification systems that have arisen with the passing of Megan's Law federally and the associated state legislation. In general, most courts have determined that although the privacy rights of offenders are a concern, the need to protect the public safety outweighs their rights to privacy (Larson, 2003). However, there are concerns that go beyond simple privacy issues.

One of the most common concerns about the notification systems of Megan's Laws involves fear of vigilantism. In some instances, neighbors who have been alerted that a sexual offender has moved into their neighborhood may decide to band together and drive the offender out of the neighborhood. In some instances, the group of neighbors may wish to do the offender physical harm. Although these incidents are not common, according to Larson (2003), they are still a valid concern.

Another concern is that the notification systems of Megan's Laws may discourage sex offenders from complying with the registration portions of the laws in their state. Larson (2003) notes that at least 20% of convicted sex offenders fail to comply with the mandated registration requirements. As a comparison, in the United Kingdom in 2001, the country had a registration compliance rate of 97% of all sexual offenders. Fear of retaliation and the stigma of the notification of their status as sexual offenders is a significant deterrent for many that means they don't register, allowing law enforcement officials to keep track of where they currently reside.

There is another concern that some people required to register under Megan's Laws, and thus be publicized as a sex offender, are not a danger to society. Larson (2003) gives the example that many states require that those convicted of statutory rape may be required to register. Although children and teenagers do need to be protected from sexual predators, in some instances, when the offender and victim are close in age and the sexual activity was consensual, this type of registration may be seen as harsh.

Effectiveness of Megan's Law:

The effectiveness of Megan's Law in protecting the public from sexual offenders has also been questioned. As Larson (2003) notes, "children are typically at greatest risk from relatives and from friends of their families, not from strangers. While notification laws and access to sex offender databases may give parents a sense of security, they may distract parents from paying attention to people who pose a potentially greater risk than the offenders on state registries."

There is a common belief that sexual predators have a high incidence of reoffense. Lotke (1997) cites several quotes from politicians. An Indiana senator is quoted as saying "statistics show that 95% of the time, anyone who molests a child will likely do it again." A Florida senator noted that there are "sexual predators who start to look for their next victim as soon as they are released from prison." Lastly, Lotke cites a California legislator who warned that sex offenders "will immediately commit this crime again at least 90% of the time." However, research doesn't necessarily support these statements. In one study, 7,753 sexual offenders were studied. It was found that only 10.9% of treated offenders and 18.5% of untreated offenders committed another offense. Another study found a recidivism rate, overall, of 12.7%, among a study of 15.361 participants. Lastly, in Canada, a national study found their overall recidivism rate of sexual offenders to be only 13.4%. These figures show that the commonly held belief that a high rate of sexual offenders reoffend is incorrect. This leads to concerns regarding the effectiveness of Megan's Laws. If most sexual offenders don't reoffend, then is the decrease in registration compliance worth the notification system Megan's Laws employ. Add to this the fact that most victims of sexual offenses under 12 years of age know their attacker, and more concerns are raised regarding Megan's Laws effectiveness.

Effectiveness of the law also comes in the negative effects the stigma of being listed in a database of offenders has on offenders. Sexual offenders often have trauma from past victimization, feelings of isolation or… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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