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Megan’s Law: Effective or Overreaching?

Megan’s Law is the common name for a federal law governing the release of registered sex offender information to the public. Under current laws, you can freely locate and review the information of all registered sex offenders online. For example, anyone can look at the California Megan’s Law website and see that 3,412 registered sex offenders are listed in San Diego. With no more than a city search, you can find out what the offender looks like, his or her name, and his or her address.

THE HISTORY OF MEGAN’S LAW

Megan’s Law was created for Megan Kanka. A neighbor offered the 7-year-old a puppy to lure her into his home. Once inside, she was sexually assaulted and then murdered. The neighbor was a sex offender who had been convicted twice before in attacks on young children. This incident shook the nation and Megan’s Law passed in 1996.

The idea behind Megan’s Law makes sense. If the public can identify where potential criminals live, they can avoid those areas and protect themselves from unsafe situations. In Megan Kanka’s situation, knowing about the neighbor’s history could have saved her life.

The Effectiveness of Megan’s Law Today

Over the years, many people have unsuccessfully challenged the law, which has grown to include a wider net of offenders who may or may not actually pose threats to the community at large. Proponents think the current laws help community members, parents, and law enforcement officers recognize potential threats to young children as well as to adults.

Unfortunately, a US Justice Department study conducted in 2008 discovered that the law had no impact in dissuading individuals from committing or repeating sex crimes. The only real benefit that the list offers is the potential for community members to arm themselves with knowledge. In light of these findings and on principle, many civil rights activists, defense attorneys, and others have profound criticisms against the practices outlined in the current form of Megan’s Law.

Criticisms of Megan’s Law

Complaints against the law vary, but most criticism focuses on the law’s unfairness to most registered sex offenders. While many sex offenders may repeat their crimes, many successfully reform and want to have productive and successful lives. The sex offender stigma is tough to break. One minor incident decades ago could haunt an individual in his or her career, relationships, and community involvement.

In addition to those who want to lead a better life and cannot escape the label of sex offender, much criticism focuses on the range of offenses that fall under the category of sex crimes. In some states, individuals can end up on a registered sex offenders list for getting drunk one night and urinating on a street lamp in public. Streaking and rape both fall under the category of sex offenses in some states. Many crimes vary in seriousness and some are considered sex crimes because of a technicality, yet all offenders are treated with the same level of disdain.

The online listing may not always carry the most current information, and it does not always include the date the offense took place. In California, all sex offenders must remain on the registry for life. As a registered sex offender, each individual must consistently update the department of justice with residential information and may face restrictions in communities and when traveling in public places.

Law enforcement professionals need to know information about all registered sex offenders, but whether the public listings serve a valuable purpose is up for debate. With one of the largest registered sex offender lists in the country, California may need to rethink its classification of individuals who commit nonviolent crimes and end up on the list for a lifetime. Not all sex offenders deserve a second chance, but lumping them all into one general category does not make much sense, either. That is why it is imperative to speak with a sex crimes lawyer in San Diego before entering any legal battle regarding Megan’s Law to avoid any permanent stigma that may affect you for the rest of your life.