In 1994, Megan's Law was passed in order to protect innocent women and children from violent sex offenders. Critics of the law have argued that the law infringes on the constitutional rights of sex offenders after they have been released from prison; however, it is my position that the law is constitutional and an excellent deterrent to stop repeat offenses by convicted sexual offenders.
This report is an attempt to understand the constitutionality of Megan's Law. Megan's Law was the state of New Jersey's attempt to control repeat sex offenders from assaulting women and children. The law eventually became a national campaign to control sex offenders as all fifty states have since adopted at least some parts if not all of the original New Jersey statute. However, because we live in a society where rights go to both criminal and non-criminal alike, there are several legal battles surrounding the overall constitutionality of the laws enacted. Even though the law's sole purpose is to protect women and children, critics have said that the law violates sex offenders' rights.
Currently the battle rages on as some parts of the statutes have been deemed constitutional and some have been deemed unconstitutional. It is my position that the Megan's Law is in fact constitutional. "In two major decisions announced Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court for the first time upheld the constitutionality of so-called Megan's Laws. The court said such measures provide an important service that helps protect society from those who would prey on its weakest members." (Richey, 2003)
Megan's Law is named for 7-year-old Megan Kanka, a New Jersey girl who was raped and killed in 1994 by a child molester who moved in across the street from her house." (Curtis, 2004) In July, 1994, Megan was sexually molested and brutally killed by a repeat sexual offender named Jesse Timmendequas. Timmendequas had been convicted two times of serious sexual offenses and he lived in a house with two other sex offenders right across the street from Megan Kanka.
Timmendequas had recently been released from a New Jersey prison and treatment center for individuals with compulsive and repetitive sexual habits. Even though he had refused treatment throughout his prison sentence, Timmendequas was released one year early of a seven-year sentence because of good behavior. Other than possibly his housemates, no one in the Hamilton, New Jersey community were Megan lived was aware of their neighbor's criminal record or past.
Timmendequas confessed to murdering the little girl and that generated a great amount of outrage and frustration throughout the local community and the entire state of New Jersey. After a huge vigil and thousands of signatures on a petition to the New Jersey governor, legislation that would later be known as Megan's law was inked. Today, the federal government and all 50 states have adopted some form of Megan's Law.
First Megan's Law
On October 31, 1994, the New Jersey State Legislature enacted the Registration and Community Notification Laws (RCNL), also known as Megan's Law." (Sand, 2004) The original law required convicted sex offenders to report to the local police whenever they moved into a community after being released from prison or other related institutions. The police would then use the notification to inform the community.
The law-based community notification on the risk level of offenders. The more likely they were to recommit sexual crimes against minors, the higher the offender was labeled. "The statutes apply to those who have been convicted of specified sexual offenses and to those who were convicted of a more narrow set of offenses prior to enactment of the RCNL and whose criminal behavior was found to have repetitive and compulsive characteristics." (Sand, 2004) Offenders were classified by the original Megan's law into three categories:
TIER 1 meant that there was a low risk of re-offense
TIER 2 meant that there was a moderate risk of re-offense
TIER 3 meant that there was a high risk of re-offense
The community warnings were based on these notification levels. Thus, the first tier required an offender to report to any law enforcement agency he might encounter and his victim's family. The second tier required the offender to report to all law enforcement agencies, schools which included both public and Private schools that the offender might encounter and the victim's family.
Tier two also goes a bit further by requiring the offender to notify any organization in the local community which included both church and youth organizations the offender could have encountered. The third tier required to contact all of the previous level institutions but went a further by requiring this level of offender had to have notification for the community to so that anyone residing within a half mile radius needed to amply informed.
Tier 2 and 3 offenders also had other requirements. For example, if they were likely to encounter an offender, schools in adjacent municipalities also needed notification. In other words, reporting to a town and not a neighboring town could be considered as not reporting adequately.
Once notification had occurred, it was up to the entities who received the reports on what to do about them. "It will be the responsibility of each school to take appropriate steps to educate and alert those staff members who are charged with the care and supervision of children, emphasizing that this information is intended to assist such staff members in the protection of their charges, not to provide notification to the community at large." (Sand, 2004)
But, it was also important to note that the original law had the high expectation that allegations regarding criminal misconduct against an offender, offender's family, employer or school could be criminally prosecuted.
The constitutionality of Megan's Law was challenged in federal court almost immediately after it was passed into law. Sexual offenders questioned the registration requirements based on the fact that the offenders felt they were facing a type of double jeopardy. They assumed they had served their time for their previous offenses. Sexual offenders did win some of the early cases based the new laws because of the timing of enactment and prison release dates. In other words, offences that predated the statute's enactment could not be made to register. But the state of Alaska took this same question all of the way to the Supreme Court.
As technology changed from the late 1990's to today, newer and more innovative ideas were added to the scope of Megan's Law. For example, internet notification of a child molester moving into a neighborhood was touted as a great equalizer for parents and families. "To prevent such crimes, states have created website lists of those who have been convicted of sex crimes." (Richey, 2003) Again, a convicted sex offender in Connecticut went to court to question Internet listing because he felt the process violated his due process rights.
The Supreme Court came back fascinating news. "The justices affirmed Megan's Laws in two states: It upheld Connecticut's law by a vote of 9 to 0 and upheld Alaska's legislation in a 6-to-3 decision." (Richey, 2003) Thus, the high court has been very supportive of both the registration and the tier notification programs because the law does not take away the sexual offenders rights.
Californians may soon be able to access free information about sex offenders _ including their names, photos and home addresses _ via the Internet." (Curtis, 2004) The Supreme Court has been supportive of Megan's Law which entails the law is in fact constitutionally sound. "State laws designed to use the Internet to notify parents of the presence of convicted rapists and child molesters in their own neighborhoods do not violate the constitutional rights of the listed sex offenders." (Richey, 2003) Because of the support, states and local municipalities across America have also implemented strong campaigns for enforcing sex-offender registration laws. The communities are arresting offenders who do not tell the police about their whereabouts after being released from prison. "Californians may soon be able to access free information about sex offenders _ including their names, photos and home addresses _ via the Internet." (Curtis, 2004)
Although I support the idea of Megan's Law as being constitutionally okay, the legal process for the law may have some flaws. The main problem is that in cases where there are legitimate needs for medical help as opposed to incarceration, legislatures tend to respond to horrifying sexual crimes through hurried legal responses. These quick fix approaches usually lead to other problems down the road. "Most child sexual abuse, up to 90%, involves someone with whom a child has an established and trusting relationship. Through up-to-date prevention education programs, parents and children can learn skills to stay safe from most types of sex offenders. But there is very little that community members can do to protect themselves from the sexual predator." (Ahearn, 2004) With these statistics, Megan's Law will not identify many abusing adults. Constitutionally, the courts concur that sexual predators are…