With an increased concern for the safety of children in neighborhoods and around schools, all states have passed "Megan's Laws" to create sex offender registries. Megan Kanka was a seven year old who was kidnapped, raped and murdered by a repeated violent sex offender named Jesse Timmendequas. Timmendequas lived across the street from Kanka and was placed on death row in New Jersey following Megan's death. In December 2007, New Jersey abolished the death penalty and Timmendequas now serves a life sentence without parole. The first Megan's Law was passed by New Jersey in 1994 to alert parents to the whereabouts of sex offenders in their area. Each state decides what information to make available in these registries and how to disseminate the information. Many provide the public with photos, names, addresses, crimes and incarceration dates of offenders.
At the federal level, the Sexual Offender Act of 1994, also known as the Jason Wetterling Act, requires that anyone convicted of a sex crime against a child notify their local law enforcement of any change of address or employment after they are released from prison or a psychiatric facility. The notification must be performed for a specific period of time, typically ten years or for their lifetime. Many states also have laws dictating how close offenders may live in relation to schools, playgrounds and daycare centers. Many states require registration by all sex offenders, regardless of whether or not the crime involved a minor. If the offender fails to register or provide updated information, it is a felony.
Each state varies in how it operates its sex offender registration. Each state has a list of crimes that require registration. After offenders have served their sentences in a correctional facility, they are required to notify local law enforcement agencies of their whereabouts. Depending on their location, the offender may be required to notify their local police, sheriff's office or Department of Public Safety. Offenders are required to register prior to their release and once they have established residence. Depending on the laws in the state, they may also be required to provide a current photograph. If an offender moves to another state, they must provide this information under the laws of the new state.
Megan's Laws differ regarding when and how often offenders are required to update their residency information. For example, sexually violent predators are required to update their information every ninety days in California.
Most states provide a website through which the public may search for sex offenders. Some states only supply information on what they deem the most dangerous offenders.
For those states that do not provide Internet access to sex offender information, states provide a database of sex offenders through the local police departments and sheriff's offices that citizens may be able to utilize by visiting those offices. Some of these offices may require written requests or payment of a fee to access sex offender registry information.
Questions & Answers: Sex Offender Registration