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.
The crime -- occurring only months after a similar incident in Monmouth County -- prompted passage of state laws requiring notification about sex offenders who may pose a risk to the community.
New Jersey's law, commonly known as ďMeganís Law,Ē requires convicted sex offenders to register with local police.
Megan's Law also establishes a three-tier notification process to provide information about offenders to law enforcement agencies and, when appropriate, to the public. The type of notification is based on an evaluation of the risk to the community from a particular offender. The Attorney Generalís Office, in consultation with a special 12-member council, has provided county prosecutors, who must make that evaluation, with the factors to be used in determining the level of risk posed by the offender.
Equipped with the descriptions and whereabouts of high risk sex offenders, communities will be better able to protect their children.
Q.What is the purpose of Meganís Law?
A. Meganís Law is designed to help protect our communities by providing information about convicted sex offenders to law enforcement agencies and, in the case of moderate and high risk offenders, community organizations and the public. The notice will allow communities to take informed and responsible steps to prevent harm.
Q.Are all sex offenders required to register with local police?
A. Sex offenders who have been released from custody since Meganís Law went into effect on Oct. 31, 1994, are required to register with the police. In addition, offenders who were on parole or probation on the effective date of the law, as well as offenders who have been found to be repetitive and compulsive by experts and the courts -- regardless of the date of sentence -- are required to register. Some registrants must verify their addresses annually; others must verify their addresses every 90 days.
Q.What types of offenses require registration?
A. The offenses include aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault, aggravated criminal sexual contact, endangering the welfare of a child by engaging in sexual conduct which would impair or debauch the morals of the child, luring or enticing and, if the victim were a minor and the offender not a parent, kidnapping, criminal restraint and false imprisonment.
Q. How does the notification process work?
A. The state Departments of Corrections and Human Services are responsible for informing county prosecutors about the anticipated release of sex offenders. In turn, the prosecutors must determine risk to the community -- the likelihood that the offender will commit another crime. Hearings are provided to those offenders who challenge the prosecutor's risk determination or the proposed scope of notification. Notification can proceed when the court issues a final order authorizing the county prosecutor to provide relevant information to the appropriate groups or individuals.
Q.Will I always be notified if a convicted sex offender moves into my neighborhood?
A. Under the law, sex offenders who reside in the community are classified by prosecutors in one of three ďtiersĒ based on the degree of risk they pose to the public: high (Tier 3), moderate (Tier 2) or low (Tier 1). Neighbors are notified of high risk offenders. Registered community organizations involved with children or with victims of sexual abuse, schools, day care centers and summer camps are notified of moderate and high risk offenders because of the possibility that pedophiles and sexual predators will be drawn to these places. Staff members at those facilities who deal directly with children or victims are provided with information about the sex offender. Law enforcement agencies are notified of the presence of all sex offenders.
Q. What factors are considered in determining the risk of re-offense?
A. Meganís Law and its guidelines list numerous factors to be considered in weighing the risk of re-offense, including post-incarceration supervision, the status of therapy or counseling, criminal background, degree of remorse for criminal acts, substance abuse, employment or schooling status, psychological or psychiatric profile, and a history of threats or of stalking locations where children congregate.
Q. What information is provided in a notification?
A. In all three levels of notification, the information provided includes the offenderís name, description and photograph, address, place of employment or school if applicable, a description of the offender's vehicle and license plate number, and a brief description of the offense.
Q. How will I be informed?
A. You will receive personal notification of the location of all Tier 3 (high risk) offenders in your neighborhood that you are likely to encounter. A law enforcement official, such as a police officer, state police trooper or investigator from your county prosecutor's office, will come to your door and provide you with the pertinent information about offenders in your neighborhood.
Q. What should I do if I receive a notification?
A. Reinforce general precautions about staying away from strangers and ask your children to tell you or their caretakers where they will be at all times. Use the information responsibly. Talk to your children. Tell them to treat the sex offender as a stranger. Tell them where the sex offender lives, what he or she looks like and what to do if they encounter or are approached by that person. If you believe that a crime is being committed by a sex offender contact your local law enforcement agency immediately as you would do in any case of suspected criminal activity.
Q. Are there any other steps I can take to protect my family?
A. Yes. There is no law that can ever completely protect us. Adults need to teach children about basic safety precautions. Check with your childís school to determine whether a program is in place to teach children about strangers. Also, check with the school and other locations where your child spends time on a regular basis to determine whether safety precautions are in place.
Q. What am I prohibited from doing?
A. The prosecutor and the courts are responsible to determine who should receive notice about the presence of a particular individual in the community. You should not take it upon yourself to provide any information you receive to others in the community; that is the job of the prosecutor and local law enforcement. Any actions taken against the individual named in the notification, including vandalism of property, verbal or written threats of harm, or physical violence against this person, his or her family or employer, will result in arrest and prosecution for criminal acts. Vigilantism is not only a crime, it is an action that will undermine the efforts of those who have worked hard to enact this law.