share, print, or email this page

Megan's Law Information

History of the Law and Federal Facts
Sexual assault is a crime that strikes at the very core of the human spirit. In the wake of sexual violence are scarred victims, shattered lives, disrupted families and frightened communities. Media accounts of previously convicted sex offenders committing new violent sexual assaults have become commonplace. A new approach to dealing with the offender and protecting citizens was in order.

The genesis for this new approach was guided by three Federal acts. They are named after victims of violent/sexual assaults. These are the victims' stories:

In October 1989, 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling bicycled with his brother and a friend to a store near his St. Joseph, Minnesota, home to rent a video. Ten months later, Houston real estate agent Pam Lychner prepared to show a vacant residence to a prospective buyer. In July 1994, Megan Kanka, age 7, accepted an invitation from a neighbor in Hamilton Township, New Jersey, to see his puppy. As they went about their daily routines, Wetterling, Lychner and Kanka could not have known they were fated to become crime victims, or that their names would become synonymous with Federal laws mandating more stringent control of sex offenders.

Jacob Wetterling
Wetterling's ride home was interrupted by an armed man wearing a nylon mask who ordered the boy's companions to flee. Wetterling has not been seen since. Investigators later learned that, unbeknownst to local law enforcement, halfway houses in St. Joseph housed sex offenders after their release from prison. Wetterling's disappearance transformed his mother, Patty, a self-described "stay-at-home mom," into a tireless advocate for missing children. She was appointed to a governor's task force that recommended stronger sex offender registration requirements in Minnesota.

The more stringent requirements were subsequently implemented on a national basis when the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act was included in the Federal Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.

The Wetterling Act required states to establish stringent registration programs for sex offenders including life-long registration for a subclass of offenders classified as sexual predators.

Pam Lychner
Awaiting Lychner at the vacant house was a twice-convicted felon who brutally assaulted the former flight attendant. Her life was saved when her husband arrived on the scene and interrupted the attack. The experience motivated Lychner to form Justice for All, a Texas-based victims' rights advocacy group that lobbies for tougher sentences for violent criminals.

U.S. Senators Phil Gramm of Texas and Joseph Biden of Delaware credited Lychner with helping to craft the language of a bill that established a national computer database to track sex offenders. The bill was named the Pam Lychner Sexual Offender Tracking and Identification Act of 1996 to honor the activist after she and her two daughters were killed in the explosion of TWA Flight 800 off the coast of Long Island, New York, in July 1996. The Lychner Act amended the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 to require the Federal Bureau of Investigation to establish the national offender database and to handle sex offender registration and notification in states unable to maintain "minimally sufficient" programs of their own.

Megan Kanka
The neighbor who invited Megan Kanka to see his puppy was a twice-convicted pedophile, who raped and murdered her, then dumped her body in a nearby park. Megan's grieving parents said they never would have let their daughter travel their neighborhood freely if they had been alerted to the presence of a convicted sex offender living across the street from their residence. Congress passed the Federal version of "Megan's Law," another amendment to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, in 1996.

The Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act (enacted in 1994), the Federal version of "Megan's Law" (enacted in 1996), and the Pam Lychner Sexual Offender Tracking and Identification Act (also enacted in 1996) - - In brief, the statutes require states to establish registration programs so local law enforcement will know the whereabouts of sex offenders released into their jurisdictions, and notification programs so the public can be warned about sex offenders living in the community (The Lychner Act also requires the creation of a national sex offender registry, and it requires the Federal Bureau of Investigation to handle registration in states that lack "minimally sufficient" programs).

Pennsylvania's Response
Governor Tom Ridge sought to address this issue during the 1995 Special Session on Crime. During this session, legislation was introduced that would:
  • IDENTIFY those sexually violent offenders who are truly predators and allow the sentencing court to impose a life sentence on those offenders;
  • REGISTER with the Pennsylvania State Police both sex offenders and sexually violent predators; and
  • NOTIFY the communities when those persons, identified as sexually violent predators, move into their neighborhood.
On October 21, 1995, Governor Ridge signed into law Act 24 of 1995, commonly referred to as "Megan's Law," which became effective on April 21, 1996. There were several amendments to Megan's Law as a result of court decisions.

Then, on November 24, 2004, Governor Edward Rendell signed into law Senate Bill No. 92, which made significant changes to Megan's Law. Most notably, information on all registered sex offenders now will be available to the public through the Internet.

Additionally, out-of-state offenders will be subject not only to the same registration and notification provisions of their state of conviction in Pennsylvania but will be subject to the registration and notification requirements of Pennsylvania's Megan's Law, which ever is greater.