Before the enactment of the Megan’s law, there has been no official nationwide government online registry of sex offender and, as a result, access to the contents of State registries is usually difficult. Normally a person must know the name of the offender searched and in a number of States, the person is required to fill out an information request form at his or her local police station. Likewise, although numerous States maintain web sites, these normally have inadequate functionality given that in some web sites there are search limits and fees. In 1994, the New Jersey legislature passed Megan’s Law.
In view of that, two major information services were innovatively provided to the public: the registration of sex offenders and the notification to the communities. Because of the Megan’s law, any person found guilty of a sex offense was mandated to register with local authorities. After numerous challenges, the United States Supreme Court upheld the impact and Constitutional legality of Megan’s Law. Overview of the Law It was the appalling rape and murder of seven-year-old Megan Kanka, of Hamilton, New Jersey, in the summer of 1994 by a released sex offender that impelled the public demand for broad based community warning.
For that reason, during the same year, New Jersey passed the Megan’s Law, which addressed child molesters and sex offenders. Eventually, on May 17, 1996, Megan’s Law was signed as a federal law by President Clinton. Although individual States decide how the information should be disseminated and what information will be made available to the public, all States are nevertheless in accord that the Megan’s Law embodies the following components: I. Sex Offender Registration
Sex offender registration laws are indispensable because: (1) after a sex offender’s release from custody he or she still poses a high possibility of re-offending; (2) it is the primary concern of the government to protect the public from sex offenders; (3) the government’s interest in public safety has a greater importance over the privacy interests of persons convicted of sex offenses; and (4) the release of particular information relating to sex offenders to the general public and public agencies will help in protecting the well-being of the public (Megans-Law. net, 2003). II. Megan’s Law & Sex Offender Community Notification
Megan’s Law authorizes States to establish criteria for disclosure, with certain personal and private information on registered sex offenders accessible to the public. For that reason, community notification: (1) facilitates law enforcement in their investigations; (2) makes certain legal grounds to hold identified sex offenders; (3) discourages sex offenders from perpetrating another sex offenses; and (4) provides general public information they can use to protect children from victimization, child molesters and registered sex offenders (Megans-Law. net, 2003). How the Law is Violated and the Penalties for its Violation
Almost every State has a version of Megan’s Law. Accordingly, the penalty for the initial violation of the law, in general, is classified as a misdemeanor, with a maximum sentence of one year imprisonment. All succeeding offenses are Class D felonies, which carry more severe penalties depending on the offender’s previous criminal record. Moreover, violation of the law may be a ground for a parole violation, which usually brings about outright arrest without bail. Likewise, under the 2006 federal law, a person who is mandated by law to register and fails to do so can be indicted as a felon, with a maximum penalty of ten years.
Case Study Last March 12, 2009, John Henry Catalano, 46-year old, was arrested after he purportedly failed to register his address with the Pennsylvania State Police in accord with Megan’s Law (Wright, 2009). In accordance with the Pennsylvania State laws, individuals subjected to Megan’s Law who fails to verify their addresses face a mandatory minimum sentence of lifetime probation or may be imprisoned of up to life sentence. For that reason, Catalano was charged with failure to perform the requirement of registration, penalized as a felony of the second degree (Wright, 2009).
Anthony Thomas of the Pennsylvania State Trooper said that on October 22, 2008, Catalano registered his address with the State police as being the 200 block of Ridge Road (Wright, 2009). In January 2009, the State police Megan’s Law Unit mailed a letter that reminded Catalano of his annual residence verification. However, Catalano failed to verify his address within the required period. As a result, Catalano was arraigned before District Judge Ted Michaels on March 12 and was released on unsecured bail for $50,000. Conclusion
New Jersey’s Megan’s Law was inspired from a seven-year-old rape and murder victim, Megan Kanka, of a previously convicted child molester. The law provides two significant information services to the public: community notification and sex offender registration. The rationale of this information requirement is to allow residents to safeguard the children in their care from possible harm and, consequently, any individual subject to Megan’s Law who fails to appropriately register can be prosecuted as a criminal. Since the passage in 1996 of the federal law, every State has also passed some version of Megan’s Law.
Equipped with the whereabouts and descriptions of high-risk offenders, communities all over the country are now more capable to protect their children from child molesters and sex offenders. References Megans-Law. net. (2003). Megan’s Law, Sex Offenders Nationwide. Retrieved August 3, 2009, from http://www. megans-law. net/ Wright, D. J. (2009, March 15). Man arrested for Megan’s Law violation. Daily Local News. Retrieved August 3, 2009, from http://www. dailylocal. com/articles/2009/03/15/news/srv0000004900409. txt