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Understanding California's Megan's Law

Following the rape and murder of 7-year old Megan Kanka by a twice-convicted child molester who had moved to the family’s New Jersey neighborhood, legislation was passed to protect communities.

Megan’s Law, enacted in California in 1996, requires individuals convicted of particular sex crimes to register as sex offenders with local law enforcement offices. The Sex Offender Tracking Program at the California Department of Justice monitors the database of registered sex offenders and the public is notified of the sex offender registrants.

The database includes color photographs of offenders who must notify the agency when they relocate. Information pertaining to the location of offenders can be accessed by name, address, county, city, zip code, park or school. Depending on the seriousness of their crimes, some sex offenders are exempt from public disclosure.

How Important Is Sex Offender Registration?

There are 82,950 registered sex offenders in California, nearly half of which are categorized as “high risk” offenders. An additional 11,380 offenders are listed by zip code, city, and county, while more than 30,000 known offenders are not registered on the site, but local law enforcement is aware of them.

The information contained in the database is intended to ensure the safety of children, not brand sex offenders to discriminate against them. It is illegal to use the Megan’s Law listing to commit a misdemeanor or felony. Decisions pertaining to matters of loans, insurance, employment, employment benefits, or housing accommodations cannot be made based on data from the Megan’s Law listing.

California law mandates that written rental agreements, leases, and contracts for sale of residential property must contain information disclosing the availability of the Megan’s Law website and the “900” telephone number of the Sex Offender Identification Line.

Duties of Convicted Sex Offenders

While many states did not enact a sex offender registration law until the 1990s, California required their registration beginning in 1947. Since this time, the California Department of Justice’s Sex Offender Tracking Program has maintained the listing. Because of its large population and lifetime sex offender registration requirement, California has more registered sex offenders than any other state.

The law requires those individuals convicted of certain sex crimes to register as sex offenders with their local law enforcement agency. Sex offenders are notified in writing of their obligation to register before their release from prison, jail, other rehabilitation facility, or probation. A copy of this notification is sent to DOJ, and when a sex offender is discharged to the community, the registration info is also forwarded to DOJ.

Most registered sex offenders must update their information annually, although some must do so more often- depending on their housing status and the nature of their crime. The Sex Offender Tracking Program monitors the updates and notes on the listing when offenders have missed a required update.

Additionally, not every offender’s information appears on the website. Again, the nature of the offender’s crime determines this.

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