Registration Requirements: Impact of Jacob Wetterling

From Jacob Wetterling to Megan's Law: The Evolution of Sex Offender Registration Requirements

In October 1989, a young boy named Jacob Wetterling was abducted at gunpoint in rural Minnesota by a masked man. He was 11 years old. Wetterling's body was recovered 27 years later, but the crime still remains unsolved despite a highly publicized law enforcement investigation and a substantial reward leading to Wetterling's safe return. But the child's suffering was not in vain.

As a result of this incident, and the national attention it received, Wetterling's parents successfully became advocates for locating missing children and lobbying for laws that kept tabs on the nation’s sex offenders. The impact of Jacob Wetterling's tragic abduction led to the enactment of national sex offender registry laws throughout the country. Below, you will find more specific information about the evolution of sex offender laws including community notification laws, and where to go for more information.

Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act

Under the current laws, defendants who are convicted of certain sex crimes are required to registry on a national list for monitoring and various other purposes. Under a comprehensive federal law known as "The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act" (SORNA), states are required to maintain a system for monitoring and tracking convicted sex offenders following their release into the community. But it wasn't always that way. Prior to the enactement of this law, there was no uniform system in place to track and monitor what society deems "sexual predators."

In 1994, the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act was enacted as part of the landmark Federal Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, that requires every state to maintain registries of convicted sex offenders and track where they live after being released from prison.

Megan's Law and Beyond

In 1996, Congress amended the Wetterling Act to include a key provision requiring law enforcement to release information about registered sex offenders to the general public. Known as Megan's Law or community notification laws, it is still in effect today. A further evolution of sex offender laws has taken place since 1996, including the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006. However, despite these efforts, many sex offenders still fail to comply with the laws and face severe criminal penalties for failing to register as required by law.

Additional Resources

If you would like to conduct additional research, click on the links below for more information. Remember, laws are constantly changing, so it is important to stay up-to-date on the laws in your jurisdiction or consult with a criminal defense attorney to learn more.

Charged with a Sexually Violent Crime? You'll Want Legal Representation

If you've been accused of a sex crime that would require you to register as a sexual offender upon conviction, you will want to have the best legal representation possible. Luckily, this process has been made easier for you. There are many skilled criminal defense attorneys who can assist you with your case and help you discover any possible defenses to the crimes you are alleged to have committed. 

Next Steps

Contact a qualified criminal lawyer to make sure your rights are protected.

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