In October 1989, Jacob Wetterling, 11, was abducted by on his way home from a convenience store. He has never been found. Out of this tragedy has come the sex offender registry and ostensibly the prevention of similar crimes against children.
In 1991, in Jacob’s home state of Minnesota, a database of sex offenders was initiated: the Minnesota Sex Offender Registration Act. In 1994 came the Jacob Wetterling Crimes against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Act, which required states to compile a list of sex offenders and established guidelines to track them. Authorities were mandated to verify offenders’residences annually for 10 years post-release, quarterly for the rest of their lives if convicted of violent crimes.
In 1996 Megan’s Law, an amendment to the Jacob Wetterling Act, was passed after the murder of seven-year old Megan Kanka by a convicted pedophile living in her neighborhood. It is the law most people associate with sex offender registry, and mandates the release of information to the community regarding sex offenders’ residences. For eight years this information was accessible only by visiting a police/sheriff station or calling a 900 number; in 2004 the information became available through public media.
Refinements to the Jacob Wetterling Act include the Pam Lychner Sexual Offender Tracking and Identification Act (1996), the Jacob Wetterling Improvements Act (1997) and Campus Sex Crimes Prevention Act (2000). In 2006 the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act was passed to address prevention of child exploitation. Currently 500,000 offenders are registered nationally.
The FBI maintains a listing of each state’s registry, and also lists US territories and Native American tribes. Additionally, there is the National Sex Offender Registry, but this is accessible only to law enforcement. States vary in implementation of registry law. In Maine an offender must register within 5 days of release from prison and within 5 days of any move; in Alabama, he/she must notify within 3/30. Community notification, in which authorities notify the prospective neighborhood an offender is moving in, occurs at the discretion of local authorities. Only in Louisiana is an offender required to identify him/herself as such to neighbors.
It is illegal to take harassing action against an offender. Thus, it would be a violation of law to discriminate against an offender in the areas of employment or business dealings. However, if the job requires a background check due to inherent interaction with children, offender registry would appropriately prevent that person from employment.
The sex offender registry system, while developing progressively over the last 20 years since Jacob Wetterling’s disappearance, is still maturing into a centralized, tightly monitored entity; however, progress is made year by year to protect our children and communities.
Need more information about Sex Offender Sex Crimes? Contact the Law Offices of David Michael Cantor, experts in Arizona Criminal Defense for Sexual Crimes and are also available for out of state consulting for sex crimes.