The Sexual Offender Act of 1994, or Megan’s Law, was passed by congress to require states to set up registries that are designed to keep tract of convicted sex offenders and to report their addresses to members of the general public. Although information regarding sex offenders has always been available to the public, for all practical purposes, the majority of members of the public would not know how to access this information.
Although states are required to set up public registries, they can decide what information to disclose as well as how to disseminate that information. Megan’s law was passed in response to the kidnapping, rape, and murder of a young girl by a convicted violent sexual offender who had moved in across the street from the girl.
Legislators argued that, had the parents been aware of their neighbor’s violent sexual history, they could have taken precautions to protect their daughter. In addition, pursuant to under Megan’s Law, local law enforcement has the right to notify the community if, in their discretion, the sex offender presents a danger.
What is a Sex Offender?
Sex offenders are individuals who have committed a sex crime. A sex crime is coerced conduct or an illegal act that is sexual in nature committed against another individual.
Examples of sex crimes include:
- Child pornography;
- Child prostitution;
- Child molestation;
- Sexual abuse; and
A sex crime may also be committed over the Internet. A sex offender lawyer is an attorney who represents an individual who has been charged with a sex crime.
These attorneys are familiar with the sex crime laws of the state as well as federal federal sex offense laws.
What is Listed in Sexual Offender Registries?
Although the criteria may vary by state, in general, the lists include individuals who have been convicted of:
Sex offender registries will normally list the name and address where the sex offender is residing. In certain states, the crime they committed may also be listed.
If a sex offender is homeless, they are typically not penalized for failure to provide an address. However, a parole board will usually require some type of residency listing, even if the location is something like the bridge behind the Goodwill store.
Who has Access to Sexual Offender Registries?
States are required to make sexual offender registries available to:
- Law enforcement;
- Victims; and
- Individuals or groups that obtain approval from a court.
There are some states that have passed regulations that make these lists available to the public. In some states, these lists are available due to the fact that all state records are open to the public.
In some situations, the state’s lists are available online.
What are the Effects of Sexual Offender Registries?
Sex offender registries aim to provide families and members of the public with knowledge regarding individuals who may be a threat to their children based on their past crimes. Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and some convicted sexual offenders have challenged these state laws on several grounds including:
- Invasion of privacy: Sex offender lists provide the public with the sex offender’s name and address;
- Potential harassment: Individuals in sex offenders’ communities may drive them out; and
- Stigma: The list makes a sexual offender’s past crimes readily known to the public.
The majority of state courts have held that the public’s interest in protecting the safety of its members outweighs any negative impact on the interests of sex offenders.
What Kind of Limitations Comes with Sex Offender Status?
A registered sex offender is subject to certain limitations. For example, sex offenders who are convicted of child molestation or child pornography may be prohibited from residing within a certain distance of a child care facility or a school.
The laws of a state may prohibit a sex offender from being out at night past a certain time, or a curfew. These laws may also prohibit a sex offender from consuming alcohol or drugs.
Once an individual registers as a sex offender, their name, where they live, and their sex offenses become public record. A sex offender may be denied employment is jobs that require being with or working with children.
There are some states that prohibit sex offenders from employment in positions that do not involve working with or being around children. Sex offenders who register are required to periodically check in with law enforcement.
Criminal background checks reveal an individual’s status as a sex offender. If members of the sex offender’s community conduct a search for sex offender registrants near them, the offender’s name will show up in the search results.
What Restrictions do Registered Sexual Offenders Face?
A registered sex offender who has been to prison will have the same restrictions as other individuals who are on parole. In addition, individuals on the sex offender registry are banned from approaching, living, or working at locations children may frequent, including:
- Stadiums; and
These restrictions may vary by state and may be revised. Restrictions by state include, but are not limited to:
- Alabama: An offender is forbidden from living or working within 2,000 feet of a school or childcare facility;
- Arkansas: A serious offender is not permitted to live within 2,000 feet of a school or childcare facility;
- California: A serious offender cannot reside within ¼ of a mile from a school or daycare center;
- Florida: An offender whose victim was under 18 cannot live within 1,000 feet of a school or other areas where children may gather together;
- Indiana: An offenders may not reside within 1,000 feet of any school property while on parole;
- Kentucky: An offender may not reside within 1,000 feet of a:
- ball field; or
- Louisiana: A serious offender may not reside within 1,000 feet of a school or school-related area, such as bus stops, for the duration of their parole;
- Michigan: Offenders cannot live within 1,000 feet of a school safety zone;
- Minnesota: Parole Commissioner has the power to determine restrictions of the offender;
- Oklahoma: An offender cannot reside within 2,000 feet of a school;
- Oregon: Department of Corrections has the power to determine each individual restriction;
- Texas: The state parole board shall have the power to decide restrictions for individuals;
- Washington State: Serious offenders cannot live within 880 feet of any school or daycare; and
- West Virginia: Offenders who are on parole cannot live within 1,000 feet of a school or daycare.
How Does Megan’s Law Affect Me?
As a result of Megan’s law, the public now has access to the sex offender registry in their state. Additionally, the law allows the community to be notified by law enforcement if they believe a sex offender who has moved to the area may present a danger to the community.
Because Megan’s law is a federal law, it does not affect a sex offender directly, other than the requirement that they register. It is up to individual states to decide what convictions require registration, what information should be made public, and how that information is shown to the public.
Do I Need an Attorney?
If you have been convicted of a sex crime and desire to have yourself removed from the registry or to seal your records, it may be helpful to consult with a criminal defense lawyer. Depending on what state you reside in and how long it has been since you have served your time, you may be able to have your information removed from the public registry.
If you are interested in more information on the laws in your state or how to access these records, an attorney can provide you with guidance on how to find this information.