The parents of 7-year old Megan Kanka of Hamilton Township did not know that a twice-convicted sex offender was living across the street until that neighbor was charged with the brutal rape and murder of their daughter.
The crime; occurring only months after a similar incident in Monmouth County -- prompted passage of a state law requiring notification about sex offenders who may pose a risk to the community.
New Jersey's law, commonly known as "Megan's Law", required convicted sex offenders to register with local police. Megan's Law also establishes a three-tier notification process to provide information about offenders to law enforcement agencies and, when appropriate, to the public. The type of notification is based on an evaluation of the risk to the community from a particular offender. The Attorney General's Office, in consultation with a special 12-member council, has provided county prosecutors, who must make that evaluation, with the factors to be used in determining the level of risk posed by the offender.
Being equipped with the descriptions and whereabouts of high risk sex offenders, communities will be better able to protect their children.
Common Questions About Megan's Law
What is the purpose of Megan's Law? Megan's Law is designed to help protect our communities by providing information about convicted sex offenders to law enforcement agencies and, in the case of moderate and high risk offenders, to community organizations and the public. The notice will allow communities to take informed and responsible steps to prevent harm to their children. Are all sex offenders required to register with local police? Sex offenders who have been released from custody since Megan's Law went into effect on October 31, 1994, are required to register with their local police department. In addition, offenders who were on parole or probation on the effective date of the law, as well as offenders who have been found to be repetitive and compulsive by experts and the courts -- regardless of the date of sentence -- are also required to register. Some registrants must verify their addresses every 90 days.
What types of offenses require registration? The offenses include aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault, aggravated criminal sexual contact, endangering the welfare of a child by engaging in sexual conduct, endangering the welfare of a child by participating in child pornography, child luring and, if the victim were a minor and the offender not a parent, kidnapping, criminal restraint and false imprisonment.
How does the notification process work? The State Departments of Corrections and Human Services are responsible for informing county prosecutors about the anticipated release of sex offenders. In turn, the prosecutors must determine the risk to the community -- the likelihood that the offender will commit another crime. Hearings are provided to those offenders who challenge the prosecutor's risk determination or the proposed scope of notification. Notification can proceed when the court issues a final order authorizing the county prosecutor to provide relevant information to the appropriate groups or individuals.
Will I always be notified if a convicted sex offender moves into my neighborhood? Under the law, sex offenders who reside in the community are classified by prosecutors in one of three "tiers" based on the degree of risk they pose to the public: high (Tier 3), moderate (Tier 2) or low (Tier 1). Neighbors are notified only of high risk offenders. Schools and registered community organizations involved in the care of children or women notified of moderate and high risk offenders because of the possibility that pedophiles and sexual predators will be drawn to these places. Law enforcement agencies are notified of the presence of all sex offenders.
What factors are considered in determining the risk of re-offense? Megan's Law and its guidelines list numerous factors to be considered in weighing the risk of re-offense, including post-incarceration supervision, the status of therapy or counseling, criminal background, degree of remorse for criminal acts, substance abuse, employment or schooling status, psychological or psychiatric profile and a history of threats or of stalking locations where children congregate.
What information is provided in a notification? In all three levels of notification, the information provided includes the offender's name, description and photograph, address, place of employment or school if applicable, a description of the offender's vehicle and license plate number and a brief description of the offense.
How will I be informed? You will receive personal notification of the location of all Tier 3 (high risk) offenders in your neighborhood that you are likely to encounter. A law enforcement official, such as a police officer or investigator from your county prosecutor's office, will come to your door and provide you with the pertinent information about offenders in your neighborhood.
What should I do if I receive a notification? Reinforce general precautions about staying away from strangers and ask your children to tell you or their caretakers where they will be at all times. Use the information responsibly. Talk to your children. Tell them to treat the sex offender as a stranger. Tell them where the sex offender lives, what he or she looks like and what to do if they encounter or are approached by that person. If you believe that a crime is being committed by a sex offender contact your local law enforcement agency immediately as you would do in any case of suspected criminal activity.
Are there any other steps I can take to protect my family? Yes. There is no law that can ever completely protect us. Adults need to teach children about basic safety precautions. Check with your child's school to determine whether a program is in place to teach children about strangers. Also, check with the school and other locations where your child spends time on a regular basis to determine whether safety precautions are in place.
What am I prohibited from doing? The prosecutor and the courts are responsible to determine who should receive notice about the presence of a particular individual in the community. You should not take it upon yourself to provide any information you receive to others in the community; that is the job of the prosecutor and local law enforcement. Any actions taken against the individual named in the notification, including vandalism of property, verbal or written threats of harm, or physical violence against this person, his or her family or employer, will result in arrest and prosecution for criminal acts. Vigilantism is not only a crime, it is an action that will undermine the efforts of those who have worked hard to enact this law.
Domestic violence is a pattern of intimidation, coercion and violence; the sum of all past acts and the promise of future acts that achieve power and control over a partner. This pattern often increases in frequency and severity over time. Battering can be verbal, physical, emotional, sexual or economic. An abused person can be of any age, race, class, culture, religion or occupation. The abused person may also be male or female, gay or straight.
Some Possible Signs that you may be a victim of Domestic Violence
● You are afraid to say what you think. ● You are fearful or nervous when your partner is due home. ● Your partner is very jealous and controlling. ● You are being forced to have sex against your will. ● Your partner hits, shoves and/or chokes you. ● You are being put down, controlled or hit by any adult family member with whom you live. ● Your partner controls where you go, what you do and who you see. ● Your partner throws things at you. ● Your partner threatens that you will lose custody of your children. ● Your partner keeps you from seeing the people you care about the most. ● Your partner's outbursts of violence have become more frequent and severe.
YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS
Domestic violence tends to get worse with time and it usually does not go away on its own. It is important to remember that you are not responsible for the violence, but there are things you can do that may help break the cycle of violence.
● Domestic violence is a crime. If you are in immediate danger, call 9-1-1. The police will respond and be able to inform you about legal protections and restraining orders.
● You have the right to ask a judge to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) that may help protect you from more abuse by the person who attacked you. A TRO can require that the attacker is temporarily forbidden from: (1) entering your home, (2) having contact with you or your relatives, or (3) bothering you at work. A TRO can say that you have temporary custody of your children, and may include other things the court can order. A TRO can also require the attacker to pay temporary support for your children or you, and to pay you back money spent for medical treatment and repairs because of the violence. You can get a TRO by the Family Part of Superior Court in your county during normal business hours (Morris County: County Courthouse, Washington Street, Morristown, NJ. Telephone: 973-656-4342). TROs can be obtained outside of normal business hours through the police department.
● In some cases, depending on the circumstances of the incident, the police are required to file a criminal complaint against your attacker, whether you wish to file charges or not. If the police do not file charges, you still have a right to file a criminal complaint and the police officer can tell you how to do so.
The above information is courtesy of the NJ Coalition for Battered Women
New Jersey's child restraint law is the toughest such law in the nation. Anyone found not to be in compliance with this law's requirements will be subject to a summons, with a fine anywhere between $10.00 and $25.00 for each child who is not properly restrained.
The law requires that all children under the age of eight and weighing less than 80 pounds be strapped in a child safety seat or a booster seat in the back seat of the car. If there is no back seat, or the back seats are already occupied by other children, the child must be retrained in a car seat or booster seat in the front seat of the vehicle. Children between the ages of eight and eighteen are required to wear a seat belt anywhere in the vehicle.
The Law (effective September 1, 2015):
Any child under the age of 8 years old and a height of 57 inches shall be secured as follows in the rear seat of a motor vehicle:
a. A child under the age of 2 years and 30 pounds shall be secured in a rear-facing seat equipped with a 5-point harness.
b. A child under the age of 4 years and 40 pounds shall be secured as described in (a) until they reach the upper limits of the rear-facing seat, then in a forward-facing child restraint equipped with a 5-point harness.
c. A child under the age of 8 and a height of 57 inches shall be secured as described in (a) or (b) until they reach the upper limits of the rear-facing or forward facing seat, then in a belt positioning booster seat.
d. A child over 8 years of age or 57 inches in height must be properly secured by a seat belt.If there are no rear seats, the child shall be secured as described above in the front seat except that no child shall be secured in a rear-facing seat in the front seat of any vehicle that is equipped with an active passenger-side airbag. The aforementioned is acceptable if the airbag is de-activated.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q - My son is 7 years old and is 58 inches tall. Is he required to ride in a booster seat? A - No. Although he is only 7 years old, he is over 57 inches tall and requires only a properly fitted seat belt.
Q - My daughter is 8 years old but only weighs 76 pounds. Does she need a booster seat? A - No. Once a child is 8 years of age, s/he no longer needs to ride in a booster seat, but s/he must be secured in a properly adjusted seat belt. Note: While the children described above are exempt from the child restraint law, the seat belt may not fit them properly. The lap belt should lay across the child’s upper thigh (the pant’s pocket area) and across the chest and collar bone (so that it’s not cutting into the neck).
Q - How can I determine if my child will be properly protected by the vehicle’s seat belt? A - Use the seat belt fit test on all children under 13 years of age to be sure they are big enough to safely use the adult seat belt without a booster seat.
1. Have the child sit all the way back on the vehicle seat. Check to see if the knees bend naturally at the seat edge. If they do, continue the test. If they do not - the child should continue to ride in a booster seat.
2. Buckle the lap and shoulder belt. Be sure the lap belt lies across the upper legs (the pant’s pocket area). If it lays across the upper thighs, move on to the next step. If it does not, the child should continue to ride in a booster seat.
3. Be sure the shoulder belt lies on the shoulder or collarbone (and is not cutting into the neck). If it lies on the shoulder, move to the next step. If it is on the face or neck, the child should continue to ride in a booster seat. DO NOT place the shoulder belt under the arm or behind the child’s back!
4. Be sure that your child can maintain the correct seating position for as long as you are in the car. If your child begins to slouch or shift position so the safety belt contacts the face, neck, or abdomen, the child should continue to ride a booster seat until all the steps can be met.