What is Megan's Law?
Thanks to Megan's Law, passed by Congress in 1996 as an amendment to the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children's Act, every state and the District of Columbia require sex offenders to register with state or local law enforcement officials after being released from prison. These laws help ordinary citizens keep themselves and their families safe by providing them access to information about potentially dangerous sex offenders living in their neighborhoods.
The original Megan's Law was enacted in 1994 after seven-year-old Megan Kanka was lured into a neighbor's house then brutally raped and murdered by a known sex offender. The offense started a nationwide movement toward creating state sex offender registries. Although the details vary from state to state, Megan's Law requires sex offenders to notify state or local law enforcement agencies of any change of address after being released from prison. Law enforcement officials then notify the public of sex offenders living in their neighborhoods.
Adam Walsh Act
In 2007, President Bush signed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act (called the "Adam Walsh Act," or AWA). It requires registration for persons convicted of sex-crimes against minors. It requires each state to make and keep a sex offender registry, and it creates the national sex offender registry. After a sex offender is released from jail, he has to register with the state where he lives, and he has to keep it current. That is, he has to update his registry if he changes addresses, for example.
The AWA has three classifications or "Tiers" of sexual offenders: Tier I is for the least serious crimes and Tier III is for the most serious. And, the registration period depends on the Tier. A sex offender must re-register and update his registration for:
- 15 years, if the conviction is a Tier I crime
- 25 years for a Tier II conviction, and
- Life, if it's a Trier III conviction
In addition, the registration requirement is retroactive. That means it applies to persons who were convicted before the AWA was passed. For example, if you were convicted of Tier II crime 15 years, you must register under the AWA.
The states had to create a registration system that followed the AWA by July 26, 2009. However, that date has been extended to July 27, 2010. States that don's meet that deadline run the risk of losing federal grant money.
The sex offender registration laws may or may not apply to persons who are juveniles at the time they're convicted of sex-related crime. Until recently, it was up to the states to decide how to handle juvenile sex offenders, and there are a lot of differences between how each state does it. For example, in some states juvenile offenders:
- Don't have to register at all
- Have to register for convictions on certain crimes only, which usually are the most serious sex-related crimes
- Must register, but their registration information (name, photograph, address, etc.) can't be displayed on the state or local government's registration Web site
- Remain in the registry, and must re-register periodically, for several years. The time period varies from state to state. A typical state law, however, will require registration for 10 years, but it may be less in your state
- May be removed from the registry early for things like good behavior
Adam Walsh Act
The AWA applies to all juvenile offenders. Some states have already adopted the AWA and require juvenile offenders to register. This may be a big change for some juvenile offenders in those states. For example, if a juvenile offender didn't have to register before the AWA, now she does. Similarly, if under the old law a juvenile remained on the registry for 10 years, now he's on it for at least 15 years, and maybe even for life. And, if a person who's now 25 years old was convicted of a Tier II crime when he was 14 years old, he has to register.
It's likely that states that haven't adopted the AWA will do so eventually because they don't want to lose federal funding. It's important to check the laws in your area to see if the AWA in effect where you live.
Specials Risks and Obligations Faced by Real Estate Professionals
Focus on state sex offender registries, community notification, and the growing accessibility of information about sex offenders raises questions about the responsibility of real estate professionals, including apartment managers and home sellers, to inform prospective residents or buyers about convicted sex offenders living in their buildings or communities. Real estate professionals may face significant risks by failing to provide adequate notice about the presence of convicted sex offenders who later victimize residents living in the professionals' communities. They may also face liability for violations of privacy laws designed to protect the offenders and their families.
In many states, Megan's Law does not clearly express the disclosure duties of real estate professionals. Few states have specific requirements for apartment owners and managers. Even so, some courts have imposed liability on landlords for crimes committed by third parties victimizing their tenants when the criminal activity was foreseeable. The predominate theory is that the presence of sex offenders in neighborhoods is a foreseeable danger, and landlords exercising reasonable care must notify tenants.
How to Protect Yourself From Potential Liability
To protect themselves from potential liability, real estate professionals should become familiar with state privacy law requirements that may protect sex offenders and their families from disclosures under Megan's Law. Many states have Internet sex offender registries- most are updated daily - and offer information specific to the state Megan's Law. The federal government also provides information, including links to the state sex offender registries.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Has our state adopted the Adam Walsh Act?
- Are all sexual offenders on the state's sexual offender Web site?
- Can I refuse to hire someone because he's a registered sexual offender?