Megan’s Law / Jacob Wetterling Act

The Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act (the Wetterling Act) is a United States law that requires states to implement a sex offender and crimes against children registry. It was enacted as part of the Federal Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.

The Wetterling Act requires states to form registries of offenders convicted of sexually violent offenses or offenses against children, and to form more rigorous registration requirements for sex offenders. Furthermore, states must verify the addresses of sex offenders annually for at least ten years, and those offenders classified as sexually violent predators must verify their addresses quarterly for life. It also required state compliance by September 1997, with a two-year extension for good faith efforts to achieve compliance; non-compliance would result in a 10% reduction of federal block grant funds for criminal justice.

Under this law, states had discretion to disseminate registration information to the public, but dissemination was not required. Congress amended the Wetterling Act in 1996 with Megan’s Law, requiring law enforcement agencies to release information about registered sex offenders that law enforcement deems relevant to protecting the public. Also passed by Congress in 1996 was the Pam Lyncher Sexual Offender Tracking and Identification Act. This act requires the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to establish a national database of sex offenders to assist local enforcement agencies in tracking sex offenders across state lines.

The Wetterling Act was amended for the final time in 1998 with Section 115 of the General Provisions of Title I of the Departments of Commerce, Justice and State, the Judiciary, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (CJSA). The CJSA amendment provided for greater discretion among states for procedures used for contacting registered offenders to keep their addresses updated. Also, the CJSA required offenders to register in a state other than their own if they were there for school, and required federal and military employees to register in their state of residence.

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Megan's Law is an informal name for laws in the United States requiring law enforcement authorities to make information available to the public regarding registered sex offenders, which was created in response to the murder of Megan Kanka. Individual states decide what information will be made available and how it should be disseminated. Commonly included information includes the offender's name, picture, address, incarceration date, and nature of crime. The information is often displayed on free public websites, but can be published in newspapers, distributed in pamphlets, or through various other means.

At the federal level, Megan's Law is known as the Sexual Offender (Jacob Wetterling) Act of 1994, and requires persons convicted of sex crimes against children to notify local law enforcement of any change of address or employment after release from custody (prison or psychiatric facility). The notification requirement may be imposed for a fixed period of time - usually at least ten years - or permanently.

Some states may legislate registration for all sex crimes, even if no minors were involved. It is a felony in most jurisdictions to fail to register or fail to update information.

Megan's Law provides two major information services to the public: sex offender registration and community notification. The details of what is provided as part of sex offender registration and how community notification is handled vary from state to state, and in some states the required registration information and community notification protocols have changed many times since Megan's Law was passed. The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act supplements Megan's Law with new registration requirements and a three-tier system for classifying sex offenders according to their risk to the community.

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To learn more about the Federal Adam Walsh Act go to,

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The Need to Debate the Fate of Sex Offender Community Notification Laws by Lisa L. Sample, April 2011:

Measuring the Impact of Sex Offender Notification on Community Adoption of Protective Behaviors by Rachel Bandy, April 2011:

Evaluating the Effectiveness of Sex Offender Registration and Notification Policies for Reducing Sexual Violence Against Women by Elizabeth J. Letourneau, Jill S. Levenson, Dipankar Bandyopadhyay, Debajyoti Sinha, and Kevin S. Armstrong September 2010:

Assumptions and Evidence Behind Sex Offender Laws: Registration, Community Notification, and Residence Restrictions by Kelly M. Socia Jr and Janet P. Stamatel, January 2010:

An Analysis of the Effectiveness of Community Notification and Registration: Do the Best Intentions Predict the Best Practices? by Kristen Zgoba, Bonita M. Veysey and Melissa Dalessandro November 2009:

Sex Offender Registration and Community Notification: Past Present and Future, by Wayne A. Logan, February 2008:

The Influence of Sex Offender Registration and Notification Laws in the United States by Jeffery T. Walker, 2008:

From Wetterling to Walsh: The Growth of Federalization in Sex Offender Policy by Richard G. Wright, December 2008:

The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act and the Commerce Clause by Corey Rayburn Yung, December 2008:

Do Sex Offender Registration and Notification Laws Affect Criminal Behavior? by J.J. Prescott and Jonah E. Rockoff, February 2008:

Sex Offender as Scapegoat: The Monstrous Other Within by John Douard, 2008:

Sex Offender Laws in America: Can Panic-Driven Legislation ever Create Safer Societies? by Michelle L. Meloy, Yustina Saleh and Nancy Wolff, December 2007:,offender

No Easy Answers: Human Rights Watch Study, September 2007:

Megan’s Law and Its Impact on Community Re-Entry for Sex Offenders, by Jill S. Levenson, July 2007:$FILE/Lev_Megan.pdf

The Effect of Megan’s Law on Sex Offender Reintegration by Jill S. Levenson and Leo P. Cotter, February 2005:

The 2006 Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act: What Does It Mean for Your Law Enforcement Agency? by Christina Horst, Project Coordinator, Managing Sex Offenders: Enhancing Law Enforcement’s Response, International Association of Chiefs of Police, Alexandria, Virginia

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