What is Megan’s Law?

February 14, 2023 Criminal Defense, Sex Crimes

After a person has been convicted of a crime, it may be confusing to navigate all of the rules and regulations upon release. This is especially true with individuals convicted of sex crimes. The U.S. has implemented strict rules on maintaining registration with each state’s sexual offender registry, due to the result of two nationwide laws created.

Sexual offender registries are now considered public records that any person can see. This is for citizens to be aware of the people living and working around them. However, for the person convicted of the offense, it means continuously providing the authorities with their personal information surrounding where they live, work, or travel. This can often be confusing to navigate, as it is an extensive list of information to keep up with. Yet, failure to comply with all laws could result in harsh punishment.

This article will provide information on the background of Megan’s Law, the Florida Sexual Offender Registry, and other state requirements after being convicted of a sex crime.

Brief History

In 1994, U.S. Congress enacted the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act. The act was put into place after an 11-year-old boy named Jacob Wetterling was kidnapped at gunpoint in 1989 and remained missing for 27 years. In 2016, Jacob’s remains were found but the case still remains unsolved.

Due to the nature of the case, it received national attention. Even after Jacob’s body was found, the Wetterlings continued as advocated for missing children. They lobbied for stricter laws to keep track of sex offenders across the nation. As a result, the national sex offender registry was enacted, which enforced registry laws for each state. The law required convicted sex offenders to register where they live after release, so law enforcement could keep track of their whereabouts in case of possible recidivism.

In 1996, 7-year-old Megan Kanka was raped and murdered in New Jersey by a sex offender who lived in her neighborhood. Megan was lured into the neighbor’s home to “see his puppy.” He then raped, beat, and strangled Megan to death. Her body was later found by police in a park nearby.

The man responsible for Megan’s death had been previously convicted of two sex crimes involving young girls. He had just recently been released from imprisonment at the time of Megan’s death. Later, her parents would assert to authorities that they would have never allowed Megan to walk alone if they had known there was a convicted sex offender nearby. This is what led to Megan’s Law.

Information Disclosed Through Megan’s Law

Megan’s Law amended the 1994 act, in which the federal government made it a requirement for any person registering with their state’s sex offender registry to be made as public information. Now Megan’s Law is the common term when referring to any state’s sex offender registry. Each state dictates the extent of the information which is available, but usually involves the details of the convicted person’s address, employment, release from prison, and other details of personal information. Typically, state reporting requirements last for at least 10 years, but can also be a lifelong requirement. 

Sex Offenders and Predators Registry

The state of Florida has a designated site for the registration of sexual offenders. Through the enactment of the 1997 Public Safety Information Act, Florida became the first state to list sexual offenders and sexual predators online, with a 24-hour hotline.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) provided public access to information pertaining to sexual offenders and where they reside within the state. According to the FDLE’s Sexual Offenders and Predators Registry site, Florida continues to lead the nation in regard to sex crime laws and strong legislation for registration. After being an active site for 24 years, the online database lists more than 14,000 registered sexual predators and 65,000 registered offenders.

The difference between a sexual offender and a sexual predator lies within the severity of the sex crime offense. A sexual offender is considered a person who was convicted of a sex crime in Florida or another jurisdiction and was released on or after October 1st, 1997.

A sexual predator is typically considered to be a potentially higher risk to the community. This is due to them either being repeat offenders, having been convicted of sex crimes involving children, or being sexual offenders who were convicted of using physical violence in the commission of a sex crime. A sexual predator is a person who was convicted of a first-degree felony sex crime or someone who has had multiple convictions of a second-degree felony sex crime within the span of 10 years.

To find out more about FDLE’s Sexual Offender Registry, you can view their page here.

Florida’s Statute on Sex Offender Registry Requirement

Florida Statute Section 943.0435 covers the state’s requirements when it comes to convicted persons who must register with the department. A “convicted” person means a defendant who had been determined guilty as a result of a trial or the entry of a plea of guilt.

A “sexual offender” is any person who has been convicted of committing, attempting, soliciting, or conspiring to commit any of the following offenses:

A convicted person is considered a sex offender regardless of whether adjudication is withheld, and includes an adjudication of delinquency of a juvenile as specified. Convictions of a similar offense can include a conviction by the military, or Armed Forces of the U.S., and includes a conviction or entry of a plea of guilty or nolo contendere resulting in a sanction in any state of the U.S. or other jurisdiction.

A “sanction” can include but is not limited to a fine, probation, community control, parole, conditional release, control release, or incarceration in a state prison, federal prison, private correctional facility, or local detention facility.

Sex Offenders Moving to/from Florida

Florida’s law on sex offender registry requirement states that upon registration, the sexual offender must report at the sheriff’s office in the county in which they maintain a transient, temporary, or permanent residence within 48 hours of:

  • Establishing such residence in the state of Florida;
  • Upon their release from the custody, control, or supervision of the Department of Corrections or from the custody of a private correctional facility; or
  • In the county where the convicted person was located within 48 hours after being convicted of a qualifying offense for registration under Florida Statute Section 943.0435, if the offender is not in the custody, control of, or under the supervision of the Department of Corrections, or is not in the custody of a private correctional facility.

The information that must be provided when first registering as a sexual offender is all of the following:

  • Name
  • Date of birth
  • Social security number
  • Race
  • Sex
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Hair and eye color
  • Identifying marks such as tattoos
  • Fingerprints
  • Palm prints
  • Photograph
  • Employment information
  • Address of permanent or legal residence, or address of any temporary residence within or out of Florida (if no temporary or permanent address is available, then a transient address within the state)
  • Location or description and any current known future temporary residences within or out of Florida
  • Vehicle information including color, make, model, license plate number, vehicle identification number (VIN)
  • Email address
  • Phone numbers
  • Internet identifiers
  • Date and place of each conviction with a brief description of the committed offenses
  • Passport information (if applicable)
  • Immigration status and documentation (if applicable)

If the convicted sexual offender resides in a trailer, mobile home, trailer, manufactured home, or vehicle, they must provide their sheriff’s office with the vehicle’s identification number, license plate, registration number, and a description of the vehicle, trailer, mobile home, or manufactured home. The same goes for a convicted sex offender who resides in a vessel or houseboat.

Any registered sexual offender must provide information regarding their school or higher education where they are registered or enrolled in the state. This includes the address, county, campuses attended, and the enrollment, employment, or volunteer status.

If any of the information on a convicted sexual offender’s registry changes, it must be updated with the State Registry. This includes any changes to the following information:

  • Change in the convicted sex offender’s transient, temporary, or permanent residence;
  • Change in name;
  • Electronic mail address;
  • Internet identifiers and each Internet identifier’s corresponding website homepage or application software name;
  • Home telephone or cellphone numbers;
  • Employment information;
  • Any change in higher education status.

 If a registered sexual offender vacates their residence—either transient, temporary, or permanent—and does not establish or maintain the new address within 48 hours to the Registry, or does not comply with any of the requirements under Florida Statute Section 943.0435 can be charged with a third-degree felony in Florida. A third-degree felony has penalties of up to a $5,000 fine and up to five years in prison.

Subsection (9)(b) states that a felony violation committed on or after July 1st, 2018—if the court does not impose a prison sentence—can result in the following mandatory minimum terms of community control:

  • First offense – mandatory minimum term of 6 months with electronic monitoring
  • Second offense – mandatory minimum term of one year with electronic monitoring
  • Third or subsequent – mandatory minimum term of two years with electronic monitoring

In addition, a registered sexual offender who reports their intent to establish transient, temporary, or permanent residence in another state outside of Florida, but remains in the state without properly reporting to the sheriff’s office can be charged with a second-degree felony in Florida. The penalties for a second-degree felony include up to a $10,000 fine and up to 15 years in prison.

Unless the person in question has been removed from the requirement of being registered as a sexual offender in Florida under Statute Section 943.04354, the offender must maintain their registration with the State department for the duration of his or her life. This is unless they have received a full pardon or have had a conviction set aside in a postconviction proceeding for any offense that meets the criteria for classifying the person as a sexual offender for registration.

If you or someone you love has been accused of a sex crime resulting in the requirement of registration under Florida’s Sexual Offender Registry, contact a defense attorney in your area.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

After a person has been accused of a crime, there is a lengthy process that is both intimidating and stressful to navigate. A skilled sex crime defense attorney can help by providing expertise and working to build a strong defense for your case. Sex crimes in Florida have severe penalties which can last a lifetime, and are often prosecuted to the harshest extent.

Don Pumphrey and his team of attorneys have years of experience working with individuals accused of criminal offenses in Florida. We strive to provide the highest quality of criminal defense while ensuring your rights are protected and respected. To receive a free consultation regarding your case, contact Pumphrey Law Firm today. Call us at (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message on our website.

Written by Karissa Key

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