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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

Another concern of sex offenders who must register is that it subjects them to harassment and vigilantism, in essence branding the offender with a "scarlet letter." The ACLU (American civil Liberties Union) has joined in fighting the community notification legislation. They object mainly to the retroactive measures of the legislation and the ensnarement of people who do not pose a threat to society (ACLU, 1996). According to their news release titles, "Scarlett Letter" in October 1996, the legislation is ensnaring "people who did not commit a crime against another person, including mooners, people caught urinating in public, and gay and bisexual men convicted of certain crimes related to cruising for sexual partners in public spaces." (ACLU, 1996, p.2) They report that his involves the Massachusetts Sex Offender Registration Program. The retroactive measures, they say, create double jeopardy. As reprehensible as they are, sexual offenders have the same constitutional rights as the rest of us, Megan's Law opponents point out.


Public opinion seems to indicate support for Megan's Law and other sexually violent predator laws. Sexual offenses, especially against children, bring out emotion in the American public for whom it only seems right to approve of such laws. It's obviously too early in the debate to decide the outcome. Although New Jersey's version of Megan's Law has survived judicial review, not all legislation has been tailored as carefully. The trend in the 1990s is to value the rights of citizens, more than the rights of "sexually violent predators."

However, the Constitution must be upheld and there are ways to write legislation that does not infringe on individual rights, without due process.

In the near future, various state legislation will be fought on constitutional grounds. The laws that are not clear, do not provide for appeals by the registrants and are overboard, will be overturned. Laws that provide due process for the offenders to contest registration and allow for notification only in cases of proven public danger will be substainded.

Jane M. Tucker is a police officer with the Lower Merion Township Police Department in Ardmore, Pa. She is currently working on a master's degree in Criminal justice at West Chester University. Tucker, a freelance writer with several books in the works, can be contacted for more information through or at [email protected].

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