Steve Butler and Eric Roos Johnson
Advanced English 10
14 January 2000
When people think of their neighbors, do they think of violent sex crime offenders? Many people have to deal with this every day of life. There are now laws that inform people of a community when a sex crime offender moves into their town. These laws are said to keep violent sex crime offenders from striking again, but do these laws really work is the question that many people ask? The answer all depends on the opinion of the person who is being asking. Many supporters say that the law is keeping sexually violent predators from striking again, but many critics say that the law is unethical and breaks many amendments. This is another question proposed when the topic of Meganís Law is brought up, is it breaking any of the amendments or is it necessary for community members to know whether a sex crime offender is living is in their neighborhood? The judge who was deciding this case ruled in favor of the critics, that Meganís Law was in violation of the Constitution. But then finally President Bill Clinton stepped in and created a total package called the Jacob Wetterling Act. This Law was said to almost end all of the Sex crime cases to come in the future, but did it?
Meganís Law has once played an intricate part in the life of my family members. In 1995 my aunt a resident of a nearby suburb of Seattle, Washington encountered a scenario which involved the notification of sex offenders.
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She resided next to what appeared to be a pleasant and friendly bachelor. He was very out going and kind to the people in the community. The residents of the community had no idea he was once a child molester about to move in on his next victim. After living five months in this small community he sexually abused a seven year old girl. After going to jail citizens of the community discovered this was not his first offense. This brought great controversy in the notification of sex offenders in communities also known as Meganís Law.
Meganís Law is said to be one of the most controversial topics among lawyers today. In this paper one will see how Meganís Law is enforced, how the name came about, the regulations of Meganís Law, how the federal government stepped in and created laws enforcing sex crime offenders to register with the townís Police, some brief opinions of the people on how they would react if they knew that a sex crime offender moved into their community, statements from two lawyers, how Meganís Law is not really a law, and the problems with the law.
" On July 29, 1994, seven year old Megan Kanka, from Hamilton Township, New Jersey, was walking home after playing at a friends house. She had almost reached her front door when Jesse Timmendequas, 33, a landscaper who had lived across the street for a year invited her over to pet his new puppy ( Richard 1 )." " When Megan followed him inside, he led her to an upstairs bedroom, strangled her unconscious with his belt, raped her and then asphyxiated her to death with a plastic bag. Timmendequas then placed Meganís body in a tool box, drove it in his pick-up truck to a near-by soccer field and dumped her body in some bushes ( Jerome 1 )." This, and the tragic murder of Amanda Wengert, was how the name was developed. But in my paper I did not discuss the murder and raping of Amanda Wengert.
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Meganís Law created a registration and notification procedure to alert law enforcement, schools, community organizations and neighbors to the presence of a sex offender who authorities believe may pose a risk to the community ( Verniero 1) .When sex crime offenders are released from prison according to this new law, they must register themselves with the police. If they are thought to be dangerous and will possibly strike again, they must also register with the
community. The sex crime offenders have only three days when they move into a community to register with the police, or they are considered to be breaking the law and will be arrested (Reno 2).
"The general objective of the Act is to protect people from child molesters and sexually violent predators through registration requirements. It is not intended to, and does not have the effect of, making states less free than they were under prior law to impose registration requirements for this purpose ( Reno 10)." The act itself provides that, if a person required to register is let out of jail then the officer responsible for him must obtain the registration information and send it to the registration agency also within three days of receiving it ( Reno 2). Some states assign the duty of getting the information that the child molester or sexually violent predator to either probation officers or parole officers ( Reno 3).
Although there were strong controversial debates over the law, a new law was signed on May 17, 1996 by President William Clinton requiring states to adopt a system of notifying the
public of the whereabouts of sex crime offenders or child molesters by September of 1997, but it leaves it up to the states to establish their own form of notification ( Mader 1). " First states that wish to achieve compliance with the Jacob Wetterling Act should understand that its
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requirements constitute a floor for state registration systems, Ď not a ceilingí, and that they do not risk the loss of part of their Bryne Formula Grant funding by going beyond its standards ( Reno 10)." The Jacob Wetterling Act says that sex crime offenders must register with the police, while Meganís Law, a provision of this Act, says that sex crime offenders must register with both the police and the community (Bai 1). For example, a state might have a registration system that covers a broader class of sex crime offenders than those identified in the Jacob Wetterling Act, requires verification for other such offenders at more frequent intervals than the Act prescribes, or requires offenders to register for a longer period of time than the period specified in the act ( Reno 12 ). " States have three years to come into compliance with the Act, unless the Attorney General grants an additional two years where a state is making good faith efforts at implementation ( Reno 43 )."
Opposing the belief that Meganís Law gives people a false sense of security, is the family of Megan Kanka. Maureen and Richard Kanka put themselves in the public eye, enforcing the fact upon the people that if they had known that a Sex crime offender already convicted was living right across the street from them, Meagan would have been alive today
( Jerome 1). " Richard Kanka stated Ď If I had already known about his record, my daughter would still be alive today. I would have never allowed her to cross the street ( Jerome 1 )."
Some argue that Meganís Law is unethical, others argue that the law gives a false sense of security and wonders if the law really prevents sex crime offenders or child molesters from committing the " hanous" crimes and almost all critics believe that there must be a better way to prevent sex crimes. ( Mader 1 ). Meganís Law does require the notification of sex crime
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offenders and child molesters, who is to say that it will truly persuade those sex crime offenders to stop committing their crimes? Realistically, this Law probably does very little to protect children from sexual abuse ( Saunders 2 ). Citizens should give the offenders a second chance to move on or if they cannot deal with that, then just leave them alone. Some rapists are wrongly treated in their communities. For instance, a group of arsonists burned down the home where a paroled child rapist was residing ( Shenk 27 ). Every United States citizen is a partner in making this law. We are obligated to act responsibly with any information we receive. No one has the right to take this law into his or her own hands by wrongfully treating or harming a Sex crime offender ( Verniero 1 ). Another case of a once convicted child molester, gaining no respect from fellow citizens occurred in Seattle, Washington. A released child molester purchased a boat with his spouse but was rejected by dozens of different docks in the area before finding one that was willing to lease him space. It is understood that citizens fear sex crime offenders but this does not mean they have the right to treat them unfairly. Everyone makes mistakes but they should also be granted the right to move on and live a happy life ( Shenk 27 ). People in communities think more natural responses on how to drive the sex crime offender out instead of how to live with them ( Mader 2 ).
The Attorney General Janet Reno had much to say about Meganís Law. She was the one who drew up the final guidelines for Meganís Law. " Meganís Law makes two changes in the Jacob Wetterling Act. It eliminates a general requirement that information required under state registration programs be treated as private data, and it substitutes mandatory language for
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previously permissive language concerning the release of relevant information that is necessary to protect the public concerning registered offenders ( Reno 2 )." " Meganís Law creates a registration system which informs the police and community when a sexually violent predator or a child Molester moves into their community. In my opinion Meganís Law could and will stop sexually violent predators and child molesters from striking again ( Reno 36 )." The Attorney General of New Jersey, where the actual murder of Megan Kanka took place, also had much to input on this topic. He feels that if Meganís Law is implemented less Sex crimes will occur all over not just in small communities ( Verniero 1 ).Meganís law is not a law within itself. It is a provision of the Jacob Wetterling Act. There are also many other laws concerning child molesters and sexually violent predators such as the Pam Lyncher Act that also includes amendments to the Jacob Wetterling Act ( Reno 14 ). Meganís Law makes two changes in the Jacob Wetterling Act. It keeps the information given to the parole officers or the probation officers confidential to them, unless they feel that it is necessary knowledge for the public
( Reno 17 ).
Meganís Law was first introduced in the state of New Jersey by the Attorney General Peter Verniero because of the tragic deaths of Megan Kanka and Amanda Wengert. Three months after Meganís death on October 1, 1994, the governor of New Jersey, Christine Todd Whitman, signed an eleven bill package known as Meganís Law ( Aseltine 1).
The majority of people would do what they can to avoid a Sex crime offender, the issue of whether it is right or wrong to notify the community that a Sex crime offender or a Child molester is living nearby, has been the center of many arguments. This is over the statue known
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as Meganís Law. Supporters argue that Meganís Law helps to reduce crimes and it also makes communities a safer place to live. Meganís Law might scare away Sex crime offenders and Child
molesters from committing their crimes again. Other supporters feel as though the Law might give the family a better sense of security than before the Law was enforced. The debates over Meganís Law are all strongly supported ( Jerome 1 ) . John Q. La Fond, a professor at Seattle University School of Law, characterizes the law as being a branding and says " The best crime prevention strategy is to reintegrate the offenders into the community by helping them find jobs and become productive citizens. But that is impossible when there is angry hostility
( Jerome 3 )." The biggest argument against Meganís Law is that the amendments are unethical and unconstitutional. " Why notification only about Sex crime offenders why not murderers and robbers" was a question asked by a spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union. Other criminals are just as dangerous as Sex crime offenders, why should only Sex crime offenders be subjected to discrimination ( Jerome 2 )? " Others debate that Meganís Law is ethical, there most definitely is a better sense of security especially because Sex crime offenders get scared off by the Law, and communities will become safer places to live ( Mader 1 )." The critics of Meganís Law are not in favor of letting sex crime offenders off the hook, but would rather see other approaches in reducing sex crimes ( Jerome 2). When looking at Meganís Law from the perspective of the sex crime offender, it is obvious that their lives will never be the same. One judge added, " This law would prevent offenders who had served time in jail from ever returning to a normal , private, law abiding life ( Mader 2)." Community notification scares sex crime offenders to death. Detective Casey Johnson of King County Police Department stated, " Offenders call me at all the time and ask where to go, where there are no notification laws
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( Jerome 3 )." Sex crime offenders who pay society their debts should at least be given a second chance to lead a productive, peaceful, and pleasant life. This law makes all of the Sex crime offenders open to ridicule, discrimination or even vigilantism ( Martens 2 ).
While upholding the requirement that Sex crime offenders register with the police, the United States Federal District Judge, Nicholas Politan of Newark New Jersey, ruled on February 28, 1995 that community notification is unconstitutional. " Critics say that the Meganís Law Amendments violate the Ex Post Facto clauses of the state and Federal constitutions, which forbids people to increase punishment after the crime that they committed ( Jerome 2 )."
Meganís Law is one of the most controversial topics among lawyers today. Whether you are a supporter or a critic of Meganís Law, every person is entitled to their own opinion over the issue. I know that if I had children I would sure like to know if there was a convicted Sex crime offender or a Child molester living in my community.
Aseltine, Peter. "Meganís Law Upheld, With Limitations." Trenton Times, 23 February 1995.
Bai, Matt. "A Report From the Front in the War on Predators." Newsweek, 19 May 1997: 67.
Jerome, Richard. "Meganís Legacy." People Magazine, 20 May 1995: 46-51.
Mader, Anthony. "Meganís Law." Trenton Times, 18 May 1996.
Martens, Steven. "Law Gives Parents False Sense of Security." Iowa State Daily, 19 October
Reno, Janet. "Final Guidelines for Meganís Law." 17 November 1999.