• Mon, Jul 25 2011

Laws Named After Children Hurt Children

So New Jersey apparently has something called “Megan’s Law.” It was passed some 15 or more years ago after a seven-year-old girl named Megan Kanka was raped and murdered by a convicted sex offender who lived across the street with four other sex offenders. So Megan’s Law, which was actually a collection of bills, required sex offender registration with a database tracked by the state, community notification of registered sex offenders when they moved and life in prison without chance of parole for second convictions.

All sounds great, right? Well there are two problems. One is that the law has been shown to have no effect on reducing crime against children. Two is that it has had some unintended consequences.

Two New Jersey teenagers are about to be labeled sex offenders for the rest of their life for a crass prank.

Call it bullying or call it horseplay. Either way, a state appellate court panel says roughhousing with a sexual connotation by a pair of 14-year-old Somerset County boys was a crime that requires them to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives.

In a decision handed down Monday, the three-judge panel acknowledged the severity of its decision, but said it was bound to uphold the law.

“We are keenly aware that our decision may have profound lifelong ramifications for these two boys as well as others similarly situated,” Judge Jose Fuentes wrote.

So what did they do to deserve this? Well, they sat on the faces of a couple of 12-year-old schoolmates with their bare buttocks because they “thought it was funny” and were “trying to get my friends to laugh.”

It’s actually not funny at all and I’m all for severely punishing the 14-year-olds. But for life? Come on! So that they might not get into college or ever work in a real job? That seems like appropriate punishment?

How about detention and demonstration that they understand what they did wrong? Not under Megan’s Law.

Ronald Chen, the state’s former public advocate who is vice dean at Rutgers-Newark Law School, said in an interview that the ruling highlights the “collateral” consequences of Megan’s Law.

He said that although the boys’ convictions for criminal sexual contact met the law’s requirements, “I don’t think lifelong registration is a proportionate response.”

That’s an understatement. The other judges said that they had no option under the law. It definitely applied and it gave them no leeway.

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  • Eileen

    I’m pretty sure Megan’s Law went federal at some point, actually…

    …but it’s really funny that you just posted this because I remember being seven years old and ranting to my mother that the Kanka parents were being really self-absorbed by lobbying for this law and naming it after their daughter. My mom thought I was being heartless.