parents were not aware that convicted criminal child sexual abusers were living across the street
from their daughter.89
In 1996, Congress adopted an amendment to the Jacob Wetterling Act, known as
Megan’s Law, which required that states notify the public about the identities and addresses of
sex offenders in their communities.90 In the absence of national standards, the Act allowed states
discretion in determining how they would choose to notify the public.91 Generally, the amount of
information that a state disseminated about a convicted sex abuser was dependent on the level of
danger that the person posed to the community.92 Some states chose active means of notification,
such as holding public meetings, posting flyers, or notifying at-risk institutions like daycares and
schools; others chose to simply make the registry available for public inspection at local police
In August of 1996, President Bill Clinton advocated for Megan’s Law in a presidential
radio address, stating:
Nothing is more threatening to our families and communities and
more destructive of our basic values than sex offenders who
victimize children and families. . . . We have to stop sex
offenders before they commit their next crime, to make our
children safe and give their parents peace of mind.94
The Megan’s Law amendment was adopted primarily to do just that; give parents peace of
mind.95 Although parents may have felt empowered by the knowledge of sex offenders in their
communities, this legislation also made reintegration into the community much more difficult for
offenders.96 Moreover, the legislation focused primarily on addressing sexual offenders who
targeted strangers rather than family members or friends.97 At the time of Megan’s death, only
five states had valid laws regulating sexual offenders. Just over two years later in August of 1996,
however, versions of Megan’s law existed in every state.98
The Jacob Wetterling Act and Megan’s Law comprised the first set of Registration and
Community Notification Laws.99 Registration requires that sex offenders provide specific
information about themselves to a local division of the government.100 Conversely, notification
laws take a much more active approach than registration laws, mandating that information about
sex offenders be distributed to the public in communities in which the offenders live.101
89 Wilson, supra note 7, at 516.
90 Prescott & Rockoff, supra note 7; Wilson, supra note 7, at 516.
91 Wilson, supra note 7, at 516; ZILNEY & ZILNEY, supra note 58, at 87.
92 ZILNEY & ZILNEY, supra note 58, at 87.
93 Wilson, supra note 7, at 516; ZILNEY & ZILNEY, supra note 58, at 87. New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington broadly disseminate
information to local residents, organizations, and media outlets. Id. Connecticut, Georgia, and New York give discretion to probation
and parole officers to determine who should be notified. Id. Arkansas, Michigan, South Carolina, Vermont, and Virginia only disclose
information to individuals who specifically submit a request in writing. Id. Delaware has a special designation on drivers’ licenses of
convicted offenders. Id.
94 ZILNEY & ZILNEY, supra note 58, at 88.
97 Id. at 83.
98 Terry & Ackerman, supra note 54, at 80.