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Departments : Point of Law

Protecting the Innocent

Issues surrounding "Megan's Law" are still hotly debated.

February 01, 1999  |  by Jane M. Tucker

The current legislation, although directed towards protecting innocent children, includes sexually violent predators who violate adults as well. In the Encyclopedia of Serial Killers, 53 or the 86 (61 percent) killers chronicled killed their victims during, after and sometimes before sex with them (Blundell, 1996). Many of these killers had already been arrested on various sexual and violent crimes and graduated to murder after their release.

John Wayne Gacy is an example of the usefulness of community notification. In a period of six years he successfully carried out the rape and murders of 33 young males. Prior to theses crimes, Gacy had served only 18 months of a 10-year sentence after being found guilty of a vicious sexual assault on a young male in 1968.

Another example is that of Henry Lee Lucas. Lucas had been convicted and sentenced to 40 years in 1960 for raping and murdering his own mother. He was taken to a mental institution and released on parole in 1970. His murderous career then began to take off. Investigators have numbered his victims at approximately 150 women and children.

Henry Lee Lucas and John Wayne Gacy are extreme examples of sexually violent predators. Their crimes have been recorded in the annals of history and their names are recognizable. Others, who have not graduated to murdering their victims, remain anonymous in society. Again referring to the NCMEC's case studies, Dwayne Lee Scott (a fictitious name) was given a five-year suspended sentence after being convicted for sexually abusing and sodomizing, a 10-year-old boy he met while coaching Little League. After being paroled for "good behavior" he continued his conquests which resulted in his arrest and admission to sexually abusing more than 50 children (NCMEC, 1995).

These are some examples of the compelling reasoning behind the sex offender registration and community notification legislation. If the judicial system and psychiatrists are not willing to listen to these offenders, Megan's Law advocates feel that they must be informed of their whereabouts to protect themselves and especially their children.

Opponents Raise Issues

Opponents of sex offender registration and community notification laws have fought this type of legislation on the basis of many constitutional issues. In 1997 the U.S. court of Appeals, Third Circuit, upheld New Jersey's "Megan's Law" in E.B. vs. Verniero. In 1974, the plaintiff received a 33-year sentence after pleading guiltily to three counts of sexual abuse against young boys. He was paroled in 1989 and resides in New Jersey. In October 1995, he was advised that he was classified as a tier-three sex offender and therefore community notification would take place. He fought the notification and a hearing was held in a New Jersey Superior Court. The Superior court found that his classification was appropriate and permitted notification. E.B. then filed a federal appeal based on violations of his rights concerning the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.

The Court of Appeals addressed the issues of ex-post facto, double jeopardy and due process. They agreed with the previous U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Kansas vs. Hendricks which concluded that ex-post facto and double jeopardy violations are not possible because they refer to punishment. (In Kansas vs. Hendricks the issue was civil commitment of Hendricks, who was deemed to be a "sexually violent predator" after the completion of his sentence." Community notification was also deemed non-penal. The purpose of the legislation is regulatory and not punitive.

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