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May 2000Vol. 1, No. 3Courts Issue Rulings on State Versions of "Megan's Law"

All 50 States now have implemented "Megan's Law," the Federal law enacted in 1996 that requires States to release any relevant information about registered sex offenders necessary to maintain and protect public safety. Legal challenges to these laws have led to the following recent court rulings:

New Jersey: The State attorney general recently issued rules intended to limit the number of people who obtain identifying information about sex offenders. New Jersey law requires that residents be notified if a registered sex offender lives near their home. According to the new rules, residents who are entitled to notification must sign an agreement not to further disseminate the information about the sex offender. People who refuse to sign will not receive all the details about the offender that they otherwise would receive. The new rules reflect orders issued by a Federal judge, who ruled that sex offenders' privacy rights were being violated under the old notification system.

Pennsylvania: In January, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Pennsylvania law that required some sex offenders to be designated as "sexually violent predators" unless the offender could prove otherwise. The High Court ruling upheld an earlier ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that the law violated sex offenders' rights.

Tennessee: Tennessee law imposes registration and monitoring requirements on sex offenders that could potentially last an offender's lifetime. The law took effect in 1995, but the State applied the law retroactively. An offender convicted before 1995 challenged the law, contending that it constituted double jeopardy by punishing the offender twice for the same crime. The challenge also claimed that the law violated the offender's privacy rights. A Federal appeals court rejected these arguments, stating that the intent of the law was not to punish offenders but to protect public safety. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Federal court decision without comment on April 3, 2000.

Related Items

For a related article, see "Pros and Cons of Sex Offender Registries" in the April issue of the Children's Bureau Express.

To track court rulings and other news related to Megan's Law, search ( (Editor's note: this link is no longer active.)