The term “registered sex offender” has become commonplace in the media and in day-to-day conversation. It’s generally understood that defendants convicted of sex crimes are tracked on a sex offender registry even after they’ve served any jail time, paid any fines and done whatever else was required of them by the New Jersey legal system. But just what are the requirements placed on sex offenders, and what is meant when people talk about “Megan’s Law” as we mentioned in our last blog post?
Megan’s Law actually originated right here in New Jersey in the mid-1990s. In response to a crime against a young girl committed by a man previously convicted of sex crimes, New Jersey enacted laws mandating that community members be notified when a sex offender lives in their community. Federal legislation along the same lines soon followed, named after the victim in the original case. All states, including New Jersey, are now required to track convicted sex offenders’ personal data, in some cases even including samples that can identify their DNA.
Sex offenders may be required to register from 10 years up through life, depending on the nature of the charges or previous convictions. Law enforcement agencies may make registry information available online, in databases searchable by anyone with internet access. They may also disseminate details about offenders through community meetings and may directly notify schools and other youth-related groups in the area where a convicted offender lives.
Community notification laws are not without critics, who argue that most sex crimes are perpetrated by offenders who are known by their victims — not the scenario that originally gave rise to Megan’s Law. But agree or not, it’s crucial for defendants in cases like these to understand the long-term consequences and give careful consideration to their criminal defense options before agreeing to a plea negotiation or anything else law enforcement may try to offer.