Megan's Law - Court win

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The parents of 7-year-old Megan Kanka of Hamilton Township did not know that a twice, convicted sex offender was living across the street until that neighbor was charged with the brutal rape and murder of their daughter.

U.S. Supreme Court lets stand Megan's Law

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court Monday let stand the nation's first "Megan's Law" that allows for the publicizing of the names and addresses of sex offenders.

The nation's highest court refused to hear arguments that the New Jersey law inflicted an unconstitutional extra punishment on sex offenders who had served prison terms by notifying the community they were living there. By denying a review of the case, the Supreme Court left intact a ruling by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Although the appeals court found the law constitutional, it did hold that the procedures used to determine the level of risk the offender posed to the community and the resulting scope of notification violated due process rights.

The appeals court ruled the registrant must be able to challenge the classification and notification plan at a hearing at which the prosecutor must prove his or her case by "clear and convincing" evidence. "The lawsuit we fought so hard to win is over," New Jersey Attorney General Peter Vemiero said in a statement. "Although some legal matters are still pending, the main challenge to Megan's Law is now concluded."

All 50 states have enacted sex offender registration statutes, and 37, including New Jersey, also provide for community notification of the presence of such offenders. A class action suit brought on behalf of sex offenders challenged the community notification provision of New Jersey's Megan's Law, which requires those convicted of sex offenses prior to Oct. 31, 1994, to register with local authorities.

The law was enacted after the abduction, rape and murder of seven-year-old Megan Kanka in 1994. The man who confessed to her murder lived across the street from the Kankas. He had twice been convicted of sexual offenses with young girls and he shared his house with two men who had also been convicted of sexual crimes. Neither the police nor the Kankas were aware of the man's history.

The petitioners argued that the New Jersey law violated both the Double Jeopardy and Ex Post Facto clauses of the Constitution. The Double Jeopardy clause prohibits double punishment for the same crime and Ex Post Facto prohibits laws that change and inflict a greater punishment.

Among the petitioners' arguments was that the law was wrongfully retroactive by forcing those convicted before the law was passed to register with authorities.

Under Megan's Law, the county prosecutor where the registrant lives must evaluate private, detailed information provided by the offender to determine whether he or she poses a low, moderate or high risk of a repeat offense. The prosecutor most also determine the appropriate scope of community notification. For example, if a registrant is classified as Tier 2, moderate risk, the prosecutor must notify local law enforcement agencies, community organizations, schools, summer camps, day-care centers and other institutions that are likely to encounter the offender. If the offender is classified as Tier 3, high risk, the prosecutor must also notify all members of the public likely to encounter the registrant.

The district court held that community notification did not violate Constitutional due process guarantees. It also found that it did not impose punishment and therefore could be applied retroactively.

(Adds reaction, details)
Gail Appleson

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