Megan’s Law Overkill

It is possible to hate Megan’s Law without supporting child molesters, you know.

Megan’s Law requires those convicted of certain sexual offenses to register where they live.  They get their face and name plastered all over the web and people in the neighborhood knows who they are.  It also restricts where they can live so that they cannot come into contact with children.  It’s like having to wear a big Scarlet Letter for the rest of their lives.  Vector illustration of a man lock up in prison

The problem is that legislators have made the law so expansive and added so many limitations that it can provide a punishment much harsher than the underlying crime.

I have a current case wherein my client, who was a good, upstanding citizen with no criminal record, copped a feel from a 14 year old girl.  That is absolutely wrong, and a crime, and he admitted to it and went to face his penalty.  He got a few months in jail for this.

But Pennsylvania recently changed its Megan’s Law, and now this crime — a misdemeanor — is included.  He finished his jail time and was ready to be released, but lo and behold, Megan’s Law won’t let him go back to the home in New York city where he’s lived for most of his adult life.  You see, he has an upstairs tenant and they have a four-year old girl.

So he found a relative to live with.  Nope, no good — Megan’s Law says you can’t live within a certain distance of schools or bus stops, and that distance means that there is practically no place in New York where you can live.  He’s now searching for someplace outside of the city, which means he has to rent a new place and commute a long distance every day.  (It also means he can’t use a computer because, you know, people can use it to look at child pornography.  In this day and age, not being able to use a computer is like not being able to watch TV or go to the library.)

This guy is no risk.  His evaluation showed that he was not a pedophile.  They checked him out completely and there was no child pornography anywhere in his home or on his computer.  He did not fit the profile of a child abuser in the slightest.

He copped a feel over the clothes of a mature 14 year old, and now he is on a list that everyone can see but not know what he actually did.  For all they know, he raped a child.  Megan’s Law doesn’t care or differentiate.

If he had punched her in the face, he would have gotten less jail time.

Once more, I am not against Megan’s Law in principle, but this is like treating a murderer and a jaywalker with the same harsh lifetime penalty.

 

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7 thoughts on “Megan’s Law Overkill

  1. I see what you’re saying, Mike, but… Did he know she was 14? If so, he’s a pedophile, plain and simple. Every pedophile started sometime, had that first apparently minor indiscretion, before they moved on to bigger crimes. Maybe it’s because I’m a mom, but instead of feeling bad for this guy who “copped a feel”, I immediately say, “What’s he going to do to the next kid?”

    And just for the record, I hate that term “copping a feel.” Makes it sound so innocuous. If it was an unwanted advance, it was a sexual assault. Let’s start using the right language, and maybe boys won’t grow up thinking it’s okay to grope girls whenever they feel they can get away with it.

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  2. I agree with you on many things, Mike, but we’ll have to go our separate ways on this one. If he knew she was 14 when he groped her, that is the definition of a pedophile, and he should be treated as such. And I do agree with you that it is ridiculous that he would have paid a lesser penalty if he had beat her up. Of course, my solution would be to make the penalty for beating her up harsher. Probably not where you were going with your train of thought, though.

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  3. Yes it is a sexual assault. However, ‘copping a feel’ tells me the extent of the crime – that he grabbed some body part and squeezed. He did not take a random item and see how far he could fit it into one of her orifices. Both are Sexual Assault, but ‘copping a feel’ puts a level on it that the broad term Sexual Assault (just like Megan’s Law) doesn’t. Just like “Theft” but stealing a quarter from someone’s desk vs hundreds of thousands from a bank is slightly different (although I believe this is a poor example as I think there’s different levels of theft defined by the law – but the basics for my example I believe are sound).

    Also, Pedophile is defined by WebMD (and other locations) – “A pedophile is a person who has a sustained sexual orientation toward children, generally aged 13 or younger…” If he does not have any child pornography on his computer, has not done it multiple times nor has any wish to engage in sexual relations primarily with children, then he’s technically not a pedophile.

    He’s a one time child molester.

    I know it’s splitting hairs but he doesn’t have a psychological disorder where such issues are like being an alcoholic or compulsive gambler – where every type of temptation needs to be checked and covered. That’s what Megan’s Law seems to be about – making sure those who can’t help themselves are known to the community and such temptations are kept far away from them.

    I should note that I”m not defending pedophilia or the molestation of children but I will agree with Mike that this seems to have been a stupid mistake that he made and had paid for it with his jail time. He does not need to be hounded for the rest of his life with it as if he has a mental disorder. His crime was due to a lapse in good judgement – at least that’s what I’m getting from Mike.

    And, no, I would not be this relaxed in my discussion if it was my girl who was groped, but the law usually isn’t based upon the individual’s feelings.

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  4. Okay, I’m willing to go as far as saying that for people who do not seem pathological there should be a limited Megan’s Law–keeping tabs on them for a period of time, but not lifelong. And since pedophilia apparently stops at 13, maybe he’s not a pedophile, but a budding rapist.

    And I guess it comes down to what message we are sending to society. Basically, your argument amounts to “It was a sexual assault, but only a LITTLE sexual assault.” I maintain there is no such thing as a “little” sexual assault. Yes, some are more scarring and damaging, but they all leave a mark. In the theft example, the victim can be made whole through restitution. In even a minor sexual assault, the victim can never be made whole. You cannot give them back lost dignity, lost innocence. You cannot erase the knowledge that many men view them as nothing but toys or meat or playthings. You cannot stop the fear or the wariness they now must view all men with. If we mean to send the message that people’s bodies (men and women) are inviolable, then the punishments even for small transgressions must be harsh enough to be a deterrent.

    Because as a woman living in the USA, seeing the Steubenvilles and the NFL garbage and the colleges who toss out the victims and not the perpetrators and the constant victim blaming, I can tell you that there are a whole lot of people in this country who are NOT getting that message.

    I do see what both of you are saying, and I understand, and part of me agrees. But I’m tired of the excuses and the slaps on the wrist. You said he made a “poor decision.” It shouldn’t even be a decision–you shouldn’t have to think about it. You don’t touch anyone, of any age, of any gender, sexually without explicit permission. No decision necessary.

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  5. Wow, a lot of people here seem to be saying that Sexual Assault of Any Type is Unforgiveable.

    People can learn and change. A drunk driver can regret his crime and be scared sober. A molester can regret what he has done and never do it again. If it’s not a psychological disorder, there is no need to isolate the man. Show a little compassion and give him a chance to show he can be trustworthy. Keep an eye on him for a while, and if there’s no further complaints, let him get on with is life.

    I am also distressed by an aspect of Megan’s law that I’ve heard about: that a 17-year-old boy who has consensual relations with an underage girl, even if there’s only a month of difference in their ages, can be permanently labeled a child molester. That is simply wrong, wrong, wrong.

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  6. Cathy – true pedophiles have an extremely high recidivism rate. They cannot be trusted in society again–this is proven. You will see that I actually agreed with you, that if this man is not a pedophile he should be watched for a while and then let go. And drunk drivers are also people with high recidivism rates. I knew a girl run over and killed by a drunk driver who had 3 DUIs and was driving with a suspended license. And yes, the teenage relationship portion of the law does need to be looked at again, so there is enough leeway to judge each case individually and decide what, if any, punishment is warranted.

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