What is Megan's Law?

By Teo Spengler - Updated April 16, 2018
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Megan's Law sounds like a particular law, but it isn't. It's a general term referring to the many different laws, federal and state, that authorize law enforcement agencies to collect information about convicted sex offenders, including their work and home addresses, and to provide access to this information to the public. The history of the law is a sad one, but the intention of Megan's Law is to prevent the very type of horrible act that inspired it from happening again.

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Megan's Law refers to both federal and state laws that allow law enforcement agencies to keep the public informed about convicted sex offenders who live or work in a community.

What Is the Megan's Law Story?

Little Megan Kanka was only 7 years old when a twice-convicted child molester moved in across the street from her family in New Jersey. The family was not aware of the neighbor's background. Megan was raped and killed by him. After that tragedy, Megan's family made it their cause to make sure other families had access to information about sex offenders living or working in their communities. New Jersey was the first to pass Megan's Law legislation. The state passed a law in 1994 to authorize police to make such information available to the public. Two years later, the U.S. Congress adopted the concept of Megan's Law into the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children's Act.

The administration of President Bill Clinton buttressed the state law by requiring convicted sex offenders to register with their local law enforcement agencies. It also mandated that local law enforcement agencies provide convicted sex offender databases to the public. Under these federal laws, all states must provide notice to the public of the residences and places of employment of convicted sex offenders. As a result, all states now require some form of sex offender registration and community notification.

What Is Megan's Law by State?

The specifics of Megan's Law legislation vary among the states, but all have some form of sex offender registration with community access. California is fairly typical. The state provides an internet site to the public called California Megan's Law. You can search for a sex offender by name to learn information on where they live and their crimes. You can also search your neighborhood by ZIP code and learn information about convicted sex offenders living nearby, including names, addresses, physical appearance, scars, type of criminal behavior, year of conviction and the date of last release from prison. You can also get a risk assessment for future sex crimes, from low to very high.

Connecticut provides similar information on an internet site. However, the offenders are not given a risk rating as in California. Connecticut also provides community outreach to help families protect their kids from sex offenders using the information provided.

What Is International Megan's Law?

International Megan’s Law is a federal law enacted in 2016, formally entitled International Megan's Law to Prevent Child Exploitation and Other Sexual Crimes Through Advanced Notification of Traveling Sex Offenders. International Megan's Law requires all convicted child molesters and sex offenders against children to have a permanent stamp placed on their passports. The law was intended to protect children from U.S. sex offenders traveling abroad.

About the Author

From Alaska to California, from France's Basque Country to Mexico's Pacific Coast, Teo Spengler has dug the soil, planted seeds and helped trees, flowers and veggies thrive. World traveler, professional writer and consummate gardener, Spengler earned a BA from U.C. Santa Cruz, a law degree from Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and an MA and MFA from San Francisco State. She currently divides her life between San Francisco and southwestern France.

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