Commonly referred to as Megan's Law, the sex offender registry is essentially a database of information about convicted sex offenders that's maintained and accessed by law enforcement to monitor and track sex offenders in the community. Some of the information in a registry of this kind is made available to the public at large, typically through sex offender websites.
Each state has its own registry system. Requirements with respect to who must register, what information they must provide, and what information the public may see can vary by jurisdiction, so be sure to check the applicable laws in your state.
Notwithstanding (and in part because of) the local nature of registration, the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act ("SORNA") was passed in 2006 in order to strengthen the national network of registration and notification programs and to establish minimum standards for such systems. However, not all states have substantially implemented SORNA's standards. Even those that have substantially implemented the standards still have variations in their laws.
Who Must Register as a Sex Offender?
Typically, an individual who has been convicted of specified sex offenses and offenses against children must register as a sex offender. This registrations is done at the law enforcement agency in the city or town where he lives immediately after being released into the community. He usually must re-register every year (sometimes more frequently) and whenever he moves. Failure to register is generally considered its own criminal offense.
What Information is Required to Register as a Sex Offender?
The information an offender must provide at registration can vary, but may include his name, date of birth, social security number, addresses, photograph, vehicle information, offense information, fingerprints, DNA sample, and more. Some of this information will appear on the sex offender website, but not all will be made available to the public.
In some cases, depending on the offense and the jurisdiction, an offender may be required to register with law enforcement, but be able to prevent any information about him from being publicly posted. Similarly, it's possible in certain circumstances to petition to have one's name entirely removed from the registry.
Where Can the Public Get Information about an Offender?
The U.S. Department of Justice's National Sex Offender Public Website ("NSOPW") is a useful "one-stop shop." It provides access to the public registry sites for all 50 states, the District of Columbia, 5 U.S. territories, and federally recognized Indian tribes. You may search a specific jurisdiction or you may run a national search that queries all the registries. Searches may be run by name or zip code, and depending on the information provided by the jurisdiction, may also be run by address, county or city.
What Information Can the Public Access about an Offender?
Registering as a sex offender, typically makes certain information publicly available. The information that is available to view by the public will vary by jurisdiction, but typically includes the following:
The website may also provide a physical description (height, weight, etc.), date of birth, additional information about the offense including statutes violated and date of offense, and more.
National Sex Offender Registry
Although it's not viewable by the public, there's a national database for law enforcement only, maintained by the U.S. Attorney at the FBI. This tracks registered sex offenders and transmits updated information to all relevant jurisdictions nationwide.
Problems with Registering as a Sex Offender? Get Help from an Attorney
If you've been convicted of an offense requiring registration with your state's database, you'll need to make sure that you're meeting all of your obligations under the law. As mentioned above, failure to do so could constitute a separate criminal violation and maybe land you back in prison. Learn more about the laws in your state and the requirements that may apply to you by speaking with a local criminal defense attorney.