Megan’s Law: A Citizen’s Guide

Megan’s Law was first prompted into passage in the state of New Jersey after a twice-convicted sex offender brutally raped and murdered a 7-year-old neighbor girl, Megan Kanka, in Hamilton Township. Her parents were completely unaware of the convicted sex offender living in their area, and Megan’s murder was preceded by a similar incident in Monmouth County only months earlier.

Parents, citizens and lawmakers proceeded to remedy the existing situation in which residents were generally unaware of where convicted sex offenders lived and worked. The resulting statute, known as “Megan’s Law,” enacted requirements that convicted sex offenders in the state must register with local police so communities may be alerted to their presence and potential risk.

Additionally, Megan’s Law established a three-tier notification process, based on the risk associated with an offender, providing information about these convicted sex offenders to law enforcement and the public, when appropriate. The county prosecutors are charged with determining the level of risk posed to the community by a particular offender, based on factors established by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office and a special 12-member council.

Other states have since enacted their own versions of Megan’s Law.

By providing this information about the location of high-risk sex offenders and their physical descriptions, communities can now better protect their children from the risk of becoming the next victims.

Megan’s Law FAQ

Q: Why does Megan’s Law exist?

A: Megan’s Law was designed to help protect communities by informing local law enforcement agencies about convicted sex offenders living in the area. The public is also given information about these sex offenders if they are deemed moderate or high risk, thereby allowing them to remain informed about potential risks in their neighborhoods and take steps in helping to protect their families.

Q: Does every convicted sex offender need to register with local police?

A: If an offender has been released from custody since the enactment of Megan’s Law, which was October 31, 1994, they are required to register their information with the local police. Other offenders required to register include those who were on parole or probation at the time the law was passed, as well as repeat sex offenders or those determined by the courts and experts to be compulsive in their criminal behavior. Depending upon the classification of the sex offender, which is based upon the offense they were convicted of, they must verify their address from every 90 days to once a year.

Q: What offenses fall under Megan’s Law and require registration?

A: Megan’s Law includes criminals convicted of the following offenses: sexual assault; aggravated sexual assault; aggravated criminal sexual contact; endangering the welfare of a child by engaging in sexual conduct which would impair or debauch the morals of the child; rape and luring or enticing a child. In addition, if the offender is not a parent of the child, the following offenses are included: kidnapping; criminal restraint and false imprisonment.

Q: How are authorities and the public notified about an offender?

A: The local Department of Corrections and Human Services is first responsible for notifying local law enforcement about upcoming releases of convicted sex offenders. The prosecutors determine the risk, or likelihood, that the person with re-offend upon being released into the public, and the offender may even challenge this assessment and request a hearing. The court then issues a final order which authorizes the prosecutor to provide risk, location and identification information about the offender to the necessary parties.

Q: Does Megan’s Law require that I be notified if a sex offender moves into my neighborhood?

A: It depends upon the degree of risk posed by the offender. Under Megan’s Law, an offender is assigned to one of three tiers, as determined by the prosecutor: High Risk (Tier 3), Moderate Risk (Tier 2) or Low Risk (Tier 1). You will be notified if a high risk offender moves into your area. Other groups such as schools and day care centers, as well as summer camps for children will be notified of both moderate and high risk offenders, largely because they cater to potential victims of pedophiles and sex offenders. Finally, local law enforcement agencies are notified of all levels of sex offenders in the area.

Q: How does the prosecutor determine the risk of the offender?

A: Guidelines for determining the risk that an offender will re-offend are included in Megan’s Law. Some of these factors include criminal background, therapy or counseling statuses, supervision upon release, expressed remorse by the offender, evidence of substance abuse, employment or schooling status, psychiatric profiles and any history of threats or stalking locations where children or other victims are frequently found.

Q: What type of information will I be provided in a notification?

A: Regardless of the level of risk and which parties are notified of a sex offender, the same information is provided in the notification: offender’s name, physical description and photograph; address and place of employment or schooling; information regarding vehicle and license plate; and a description of the offender’s crime.

Q: How will I be informed of a notification?

A: If a high risk, or Tier 3, offender moves to your neighborhood, you will be personally notified of this by a local law enforcement official.

Q: What should I do if a sex offender moves to my area?

A: If you receive notification of a sex offender moving to your area, you should talk with your children to reinforce precautions such as avoiding strangers and always informing you of their whereabouts. Explain to your children that the sex offender should be treated as a stranger, regardless of the fact they live in your neighborhood. Tell them where the offender lives, what he or she looks like, and how to react if they are approached by the offender. If you suspect a sex offender in your area is committing a crime, you should immediately contact your local law enforcement agency to report the activity.

Q: What other steps can I take to protect my family?

A: Unfortunately, no law can fully protect your family from becoming a victim of crime. Parents can further shield their children by ensuring they are educated about basic safety precautions regarding strangers and always letting you know where they are. Your school may also provide a program that teaches your child about strangers; help to reinforce the lessons learned by discussing them at home with your child. If your child spends time with a caretaker, ask about what types of safety precautions are in place to protect him or her from strangers while in their care.

Q: Is there anything I am prohibited from doing regarding the presence of a sex offender?

A: Only the parties determined by the prosecutor and courts may receive information about a sex offender. If you are notified of the presence of one, you should leave the local law enforcement agencies to properly notify your neighbors, too. You are also prohibited from taking any action against the individual named in the notification. It is a crime to vandalize their property, verbally threaten or pose a threat in written form, and exhibit physical violence toward the offender, their employer or family. Any of these acts effectually undermine the efforts of Megan’s Law and will result in arrest and full prosecution as allowed by law.