The History Behind Megan's Law
In July 1994, 7-year old Megan Kanka went missing from her home in Hamilton Township, New Jersey.
Unbeknownst to Megan's parents, a repeat, convicted sex offender had moved in next door. He lured Megan into his home, raping and murdering the child. Within 24-hours, the convicted pedophile surrendered to the police and confessed to the heinous crime. He led investigators to a nearby park where he dumped Megan's body.
The case sparked national outrage, and the public wanted justice. Legislators obliged by passing Megan's Law, and the entire nation rallied to have a similar law passed in every state.
What is Megan's Law?
Megan's Law authorizes local law enforcement agencies to inform the public about sex offenders who live, work, or visit the area. This law caused a nationwide shift in how authorities and communities deal with convicted sex offenders. The legislation drew inspiration from the case of 7-year old victim Megan Kanka.
Megan's parents worked tirelessly after the incident. They lobbied for new policies aimed at protecting the public from known sexual predators. The Kanka family fought for the right of local communities to receive warnings about sex offenders in the area.
They said that if they had known a twice-convicted sex offender became their neighbor, Megan would be alive today.
Four-term Assemblyman Paul Kramer sponsored a package of seven bills known as "Megan's Law" in the New Jersey General Assembly in 1994. Legislators passed Megan's Law 89 grueling days after the kidnapping, rape, and murder of Megan Kanka.
The U.S. Congress enacted Megan's Law in 1996 as an amendment to the existing Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children's Act. Every state was now mandated to keep a sex offender registry and a public notification system. The system would warn the public if a sex offender gets released into their community. The law also states that repeat sex offenders get sentenced to life in prison.
State Implementation of Megan's Law
Since congress passed Megan's Law in May 1996, all 50 states have passed their version of the law. The procedure for making required disclosures vary for each jurisdiction. In most cases, the information included in the public notification system are as follows:
• Offender's name
• Recent photo
• Incarceration date
• Offense or conviction
Authorities often use free public websites, local newspapers, or other media to notify the community. The federal version of Megan's Law wasn't the first to realize the need to register convicted sex offenders. California passed a law as early as 1947 that required the registration of sex offenders.
If you received notice about a convicted sex offender in your area, you could search arrest records for more a more detailed report on the person. Police reporting is critical to ensure repeat sex offenders stay locked up for life. If you witness someone suspicious acting inappropriately, do not hesitate to report the matter to the police.
History Check: What Came Before Megan's Law?
Before the enactment of Megan's Law, the Jacob Wetterling Act of 1994 was the primary legislation that dealt with sex offenders. It required every state to develop and maintain a registry of sexual offenders and other related crimes against children. However, the database was only available for use by law enforcement agencies.
The registry wasn't open to public viewing unless the information regarding an individual was a matter of public safety. Maureen and Richard Kanka, parents of slain 7-year old Megan Kanka, challenged the law's effectiveness. They argued that if the law was a tool to protect the public, everyone should have access to the information.
The Kankas fought to change the law and develop a better monitoring system, so crimes of this magnitude don't happen to other families. They wanted to make it mandatory that states notify residents of a community when sex offenders are living there or have just moved in, and they won. A small victory for such a tragic and irreplaceable loss.
Residents of the communities where convicted sex offenders get released are the most vulnerable. It makes sense that they receive a notification when a sex offender is in the neighborhood. The Kankas said that if they had known there was a convicted sex offender in the community, they wouldn't have let Megan play outside alone.
Thanks to the efforts of Richard and Maureen Kanka, Paul Kramer, the New Jersey General Assembly, and the U.S. Congress, the Megan Law, and other similar laws were enacted in each state. The sex offender database will make it harder for convicted predators to hide in plain sight.
The sex offender who kidnapped, raped, and killed Megan Kanka was initially sentenced to death. However, on December 17, 2007, the New Jersey Legislature abolished the death penalty. The monster got life imprisonment without the possibility of parole instead.