Understanding the Implications of Megan's Law

Passed in California in 2004 and created to provide the public with certain information about the whereabouts of registered sex offenders "so that members of our local communities may protect themselves and their children," Megan's Law has a direct and dramatic impact on men and women who have been convicted of sex crimes. Understanding how this law works can help you gain a better picture of the true implications of a sex crime conviction and resulting sex offender registration.

First introduced in New Jersey in 1994, Megan's Law was a package of seven bills approved just one month after the rape and murder of 7-year-old Megan Kanka by a sex offender who lived along with two other sex offenders across the street from the girl's family. Every state now has some form of Megan's Law in effect, which pertains to the public accessibility of sex offender information. Prior to Megan's Law, the public could only obtain information regarding registered sex offenders by personally visiting police stations or by calling a toll-free number. With various forms of Megan's Law in place, the public can more easily access information regarding sex offenders who live in their area.

In California, sex offender registration is overseen by the California Department of Justice (DOJ). Any person can conduct an online search for sex offenders by name, street address, zip code, city or county. Such a search will yield a list of registered sex offenders in the area, including the offender's name, known aliases, photograph, physical description and offense for which he or she was convicted. The listing may or may not list the offender's street address, depending on the type and severity of offense.

While the DOJ website states that "Anyone who uses this information to commit a crime or harass an offender or his or her family is subject to criminal prosecution and civil liability," sex offender registration under Megan's Law can have dramatic and lasting consequences. If the community knows of an offender's history, he or she may face social ostracism and even some level of harassment. Sex offender registration can also affect employment and educational opportunities, as an offender must disclose his or her status in certain forms of employment or educational settings.

Accessibility of Sex Offender Information Under Megan's Law

Not all registered sex offenders in California are listed on the DOJ's Megan's Law website. Whether one's name appears at all and whether a listing includes one's street address will vary depending on the specific offense for which one was convicted. About 25% of registered sex offenders in California are not subject to public disclosure under Megan's Law and are therefore not listed online, according to the DOJ. Complete registration is typically required for those who are convicted of the most serious sex crimes or who have been convicted of multiple sex offenses.

According to California Penal Code § 290, people who are convicted of certain sex crimes will be required to register as sex offenders with their local law enforcement agencies. They must complete an initial registration within 5 days of their release into the community from custody, prison, jail or a mental hospital. They must then update their information annually, usually within 5 days of their birthday. Some sex offenders must register more frequently: those without permanent residences must re-register every 30 days, and those classified as sexually violent predators must re-register every 90 days.

Sex offender registration has been required under California law since 1947. California was actually the first state to enact a sex offender registration law and today has the largest number of registered sex offenders in the U.S.

Interested in learning more about Megan's Law and sex offender requirements in California? A Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer at Lessem & Newstat may be able to help you.