Megan’s Law was signed into effect on May 17, 1996, as part of a series of legislation aimed at preventing sexual offenses and crimes against children. The law was named after Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old girl from New Jersey, who was raped and murdered on July 29, 1994, by her neighbor, 33-year-old Jesse Timmendequas. After luring Megan into his home with the promise of a puppy, Timmendequas raped her, strangled her to death, and dumped her body in a park two miles away. He willingly led police to Megan’s body the next day and confessed. This was the first time Megan’s parents became aware that the man who moved directly across the street from them had not only been convicted twice already for molesting other young girls like Megan, but was living with two roommates who were also registered sex offenders.
Megan’s murder exposed how easily convicted sex offenders could still gain access to potential victims, despite the existing laws designed to prevent them from doing so. How could a convicted serial pedophile like Jesse Timmendequas move next door to a 7-year-old girl, and without her parents or the rest of the community even knowing?
After the abduction and murder of Jacob Wetterling in 1989, the Jacob Wetterling Act of 1994 was passed to establish the first state sex offender registry. As monumental as this step was, in reality it only required that each state create its own registry for the private use of local law enforcement. This meant that the type of information collected and the regulations on enforcing offender registration varied widely by each state, and that registry information was typically unavailable to the public. This limited the registries’ overall effectiveness and allowed many offenders to still fall through the cracks. After losing their daughter, Richard and Maureen Kanka advocated for reforms to the existing law that would keep the public informed about registered offenders who posed a threat to their safety. Megan’s Law was passed two years later and worked in tandem with the Wetterling act, requiring that the names, whereabouts, and other critical information about the offenders on the mandated state registries be shared with members of the community in order to better protect themselves.
The law was further amended by the Adam Walsh Act of 2006, which better coordinated registries across state lines by creating more consistent guidelines for information kept about offenders, dividing types of offenses into three tiers that subsequently determine how much additional information about the offender must be shared with the public, and making it a felony for offenders to fail to register or violate the terms of their registration.