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Megan’s Law and the National Public Sex Offender Registry

A consequence of being convicted of certain sex offenses is the requirement to register as a sex offender. This requirement, generally referred to as “Megan’s Law,” can be for life or for a number of years.

Having to register as a sex offender has a number of significant negative consequences. First, the registries are public and, of course, are available on the internet, making them a constant source of public shaming for both the offender and his family. In addition, it makes it difficult for individuals on this registry to obtain employment and housing.

Sadly, there is no evidence that registration prevents future criminal conduct. It would thus appear that registration is nothing more than additional punishment.

But a new problem related to the registry emerged in 2007, when then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales declared the federal reporting requirement (The Adam Walsh Act) to be retroactive. That meant someone who had been convicted prior to the passage of the new law was now subject to its provisions.

Failure to register is a separate crime. But punishing someone for conduct which predates the law is generally an unconstitutional violation of the ex post facto doctrine. Louisiana has recently held this to be the case. Similarly, in 2008, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that the Alaska Sex Offender Registration Act does not apply to persons whose acts predate the effective date of the Act.

This is an issue I expect to see a lot more of.

–Stanton D. Levenson

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