In light of recent reports that a paroled sex offender has moved into Levittown- part of the Island Trees School District, Senator Kemp Hannon advises parents and residents to contact local police if they have questions or concerns about specific individuals.
Senator Hannon says, "Records about all criminal convictions are public records. No convicted adult offender has a right to privacy that allows him or her to keep secret a conviction record."
However, while information about this reported sex offender may be readily available to the public via the police, there are community notification provisions based on Megan's Law and certain challenges as to the constitutionality of the Act.
To prevent confusion, Senator Hannon, along with Assemblyman Marc Herbst, Assemblywoman Kathleen Murray, and Nassau County Legislator Dennis Dunne, offer this outline of Megan's Law and its current status:
-New York's version of Megan's Law requires convicted sex offenders to be registered with the Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) and classified according to their risk to the community.
-The Act's constitutionality was immediately challenged in the courts, as the Act sought to require retroactive registry of sex offenders who committed their crimes before the Act went into effect on Jan. 21, 1996.
-All of New York's courts have upheld the constitutionality of this law, but the issue remains unresolved at the federal level.
-On the federal level, the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in August 1997 that New York's version of Megan's Law was constitutional and can be applied to sex offenders convicted prior to January 21, 1996.
-The sex offenders who lost this federal suit have plans to bring their case to the US Supreme Court, the highest court in the nation. While this suit is still unresolved community notification of sex offenders convicted before January 21, 1996 is on hold.
Senator Hannon says, "It is especially important to note that until the ongoing challenge to the constitutionality of Megan's Law is resolved, a stay remains in effect, barring the state of New York from moving forward with community notification for offenders whose crimes took place before the law's enactment."
He adds, "It is the duty of parents to empower themselves with the knowledge that will help protect children from the grip of potential dangers they are exposed to in society. Still, all residents should be aware that there are criminal and/or civil penalties for improper dissemination of information about sex offenders."
Improper dissemination of information includes the distribution of leaflets or other material that reveal personal information about the sex offender.
Somewhere in New York tonight, a mother or father will tuck a child into bed knowing that he or she is a little safer from sexual predators thanks to "Megan's Law."
Finally, after two years of legal battles, the U.S. Supreme Court has turned away the most serious challenge to the law which allows communities to be notified about convicted sex offenders living in their midst.
The decision means that soon law enforcement officials will begin to release that information- long held in government files- to parents, school administrators, day care operators and others who are responsible for protecting the safety of young children.
Since the statute went on the books in New York in January 1996, more than 6,000 convicted sexual offenders have been required to register their names and addresses with law enforcement agencies.
The Sex Offender Registry maintained by the Division of Criminal Justice Services has provided police with a new tool to investigate sex crimes, which often involve offenders with a disturbing tendency to repeat their crimes.
But police have been effectively handcuffed when it came to the community notification component of Megan's Law.
As Attorney General, my office led the legal battle to tear down those roadblocks put in place by a trio of anonymous sex offenders who filed suit to upend the law.
As a result of the high court ruling, Megan's Law, unquestionably, is now New York's law.
While the registration and risk classification of convicted sex offenders are indeed important components of the statute, the public, quite understandably, views Megan's Law as a mechanism by which vital information about the identities and whereabouts of sex offenders can be released to communities.
Soon you will be able to walk into your local police station, ask to inspect the subdirectory of sexual predators, and find out about the sex offenders who share your ZIP code. You will also be able to call a "900" number and, for $5 per call, learn whether a specific individual is a convicted sex offender. While Megan's Law represents a historic change in attitude about the public's right to know this information, I believe that now, with the legal obstacles removed, we must focus on ways to improve the law to make it even more accessible to New York families.
Throughout our effort to build upon Megan's Law, we need to keep in mind that the momentum to devise a law that provides such notification came from a tragedy: the murder of an innocent 7-year-old girl named Megan Kanka.
The mother of the victim, Maureen Kanka, has emphatically stated that her daughter would be alive today if Megan's Law had been in effect at that time and she had access to the information that the man now convicted of the murder had been a paroled child molester.
While New York's Megan's Law correctly envisions a notification process for parents and other concerned citizens- including the 900 number and a subdirectory at local police precincts- even this process is somewhat cumbersome.
If the Internet is the communications tool of the 21st century, it only makes sense that we begin to focus our efforts on making the Sex Offender Registry information available on the Internet.
Why not weld the usefulness and instant accessibility of the Internet to the public's need to know- and throw real sunshine on this vital information in the government's possession.
In every sense, this is information that belongs to the people. Already, at least five states- Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Alaska, and Georgia- have gone on-line with information from their respective sex offender registries. Michigan is considering following suit.
I strongly support legislation sponsored by Senator Dean Skelos of Long Island- one of the original architects of Megan's Law- that authorizes the division of Criminal Justice Services to put information from the Sex Offender Registry on the Internet. Megan's Law is certainly not a panacea, and parents need to be vigilant in monitoring their children's activities and providing appropriate counseling regarding the dangers that lurk in our open society. The challenge before us now is to build upon Megan's Law and thus fortify the protection that it offers.