Legality of Megan’s Law

On July 29, 1994, seven year old Megan Kanka was lured into her neighbor’s house where she was raped and murdered by Jesse Timmendequas who was a twice convicted sex offender. The result of this event was Megan’s Law. The citizens of Hamilton, New Jersey demanded a law that would notify communities of known sex offenders living in the area. Later in 1994, President Bill Clinton signed three bills into law which were designed to protect children from violent abuse and sex crimes. Among the laws passed were Megan’s Law. Even though some people believe that Megan’s Law is unconstitutional and that it violates the rights of the offenders, Megan’s Law is a successful legislative act that is effective in making people more aware of sex offenders living in their area.

Megan’s Law requires the Department of Justice to compile a list of the addresses and other information on persons required to register as sex offenders. Megan’s Law walks a fine line between protection of children and an invasion of privacy which is why many have targeted it as being unconstitutional. The argument over Megan’s Law is mostly about whether or not it is right to force a past criminal to constantly make amends for their crimes. Sex offenders usually have a mark on their reputation for the rest of their lives and Megan’s Law usually doesn’t help in that matter.

In the United States, jail is guaranteed if someone is found guilty of sexual abuse of a minor. However, most sex offenders don’t spend their whole lives in jail. Eventually they will get out because their sentence is over or because they were paroled. When these offenders get out, Megan’s Law makes sure that communities know whether or not one of these sex offenders is living near them. People have a right to know whether their neighbors are convicted sex offenders or murderers because that might help prevent future crimes if people are aware of what someone has done. The pressure and supervision helps prevent sex offenders from committing more crimes.

Many communities across the nation have shown support for Megan’s Law. Many families, teachers and politicians have all expressed positive views on Megan’s Law. Many teachers feel safer when they know their kids can go out and play without the danger of sexual predators going after them. It helps prevent new sex offenders and rehabilitate convicted ones.

Recently, there have been constitutional issues over the legality of Megan’s Law. The US Constitution grants every citizens with certain rights. The fifth, sixth and eighth Amendments of the Constitution give citizens rights such the right to due process, the right to have a fair trial, and the right to fair punishment. Some people believe that Megan’s Law violates some these rights. On June 30, 1999 the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled Megan’s Law to be unconstitutional. The court said that Megan’s Law shifts the burden of proof by labeling defendants as predators. People who oppose the law say that by enforcing a law where previously convicted offenders must prove stability and health is exactly like being put on trial again. They believe that once an offender is released then they should be allowed to live in peace.

Opponents of Megan’s Law believe that once a convicted sex offender serves their time in prison then they paid their debt to society and should be left alone. They say that constant pressures from society present a roadblock for a chance of rehabilitation for the released offenders. They also maintain that the societal pressure also causes extreme feelings of despair which may possibly contribute to the offenders repeating their previous behavior and it may cause to them to go into hiding instead of seeking the professional help that they need. Vigilantism against them the offenders is another problem that supporters of Megan’s Law have to deal with.

Privacy doesn’t factor much into Megan’s Law. Released offenders must deal with protecting themselves and their property from people who would do them harm when they find out they are offenders. Many sex offenders are forced to move away from their homes due to threats from angry residents who don’t want to live near a sex offender. The privacy issue is considered a negative impact of Megan’s Law and is one of major issues that detractors of Megan’s Law use to show why the law is unconstitutional. The privacy issue can be problematic but to supporters of the law it is just part of the punishment that these offenders have to deal with.

Recently, state legislators in Pennsylvania concluded that Megan’s Law needs to be strengthened in order to be more effective and to give the public more access to information about identities and locations of convicted sex offenders. Robert P Casey Jr. who is the Auditor General did research on Megan’s Law and uncovered the fact that though there were nearly 7,000 sex offenders in Pennsylvania, families only had access to information about less than half of them. He has been urging the Pennsylvania legislature to give families more access to information about identity and location of convicted offenders after they are released from jail. The US Supreme Court has upheld the legality of compiling such lists of sex offenders. Supporters of Megan’s Law believe that the privacy issues are just part of punishment of being a convicted sex offender.

Two cases have tested the legality of Megan’s Law. The first case is Connecticut Department of Public Safety v. Doe. In this case the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit invalidated Megan’s Law on the grounds that it branded the convicted sex offenders to whom it applied as more dangerous than other people without factual basis. The court decided that the Connecticut law denied the opportunity for offenders to make the case that they are not necessarily dangerous. Another argument presented was that Megan’s Law is ex post facto law, which means a law imposing a criminal penalty after the illegal action has occurred. The court decided not to rule on the issue.

The other case was Smith v Doe which took place in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals involving Alaska’s Megan’s Law. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals accepted the ex post facto argument. It ruled that Alaska could only apply its registration requirement to people who have committed their crimes after Megan’s Law was signed into law.

There are many different opinions about Megan’s Law. There is one group of people who believe that Megan’s Law is one of the most effective pieces of legislature signed into law. They feel that it is very effective in deterring convicted sex offenders from committing future crimes. They feel that the punishment against the offenders is justified and is required in able to protect children from being abducted and killed. Others however believe that Megan’s Law infringes on the most important Constitutional rights that are granted to all US citizens. They feel that invades the released offender’s privacy and that it shifts the burden of proof to the offenders who must prove that they are living a normal life. They argue that it is difficult for them to live normal lives due to the constant pressure that they face everyday from law enforcement and from their neighbors who become aware of who they are and what crimes they have committed because of the requirements of Megan’s Law.

Even with all these differing opinions the most important question about Megan’s Law is whether or not it actually does infringe on Constitutional rights. Megan’s Law may restrict convicted offenders somewhat but many of them are convicted of sexually molesting or assaulting other people. By committing these heinous crimes they are forfeiting some their rights because they are now convicted criminals who must be monitored to insure that they don’t repeat their crimes. Megan’s Law allows people to be aware of convicted offenders living near them which is useful in preventing future crimes. Megan’s Law may contain some controversial issues but overall it helps more than it hurts the problem of convicted sex offenders repeating their crimes.

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