At the federal level, Megan's Law is known as the Sexual Offender (Jacob Wetterling) Act of 1994 and requires persons convicted of sex crimes against children to notify local law enforcement of any change of address or employment after release from custody (prison, psychiatric facility). The notification requirement may be imposed for a fixed period of time - usually at least ten years - or permanently.
Some states may legislate registration for all sex crimes, even if no minors were involved. It is a felony in most jurisdictions to fail to register or fail to update information.
Megan's Law provides two major information services to the public: sex offender registration and community notification. The details of what is provided as part of sex offender registration and how community notification is handled vary from state to state, and in some states the required registration information and community notification protocols have changed many times since Megan's Law was passed. The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act supplements Megan's Law with new registration requirements and a "three-tier" system for classifying sex offenders according to their risk to the community.
The law is named for seven-year-old Megan Kanka who Jesse Timmendequas, a repeat violent sexual offender, kidnapped, raped, and murdered. Timmendequas was found guilty, and was on New Jersey's death row. In December 2007, New Jersey ended the death penalty. Timmendequas will now serve life without parole.
Timmendequas had recently moved into the Kankas' neighborhood, in a home across the street from the Kanka household, living with two other convicted sex offenders. The Kanka family claims not to have known this information, though the majority of their immediate neighbors were at least aware of the criminal history of one of Timmendequas' roommates, Joseph Cifelli, who had lived in the house for six years.. Maureen Kanka maintains that had she known about Timmendequas' prior conviction, she would have warned Megan to stay away from him.
Megan's parents, Richard and Maureen Kanka began the Megan Nicole Kanka Foundation with the belief that "Every parent should have the right to know if a dangerous sexual predator moves into their neighborhood." The Kankas circulated a petition demanding immediate legislative action. The petition garnered over 400,000 signatures, and the law was passed in approximately 89 days.
Megan's home state of New Jersey passed the first so-called "Megan's Law" in 1994.
Federal legislation followed in 1995. , entitled Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 and amended May 17 1996, included provisions requiring community notification. Authored by Congressman Dick Zimmer, it required every state to develop a procedure for notifying the public when a person convicted of certain crimes is released near their homes. The law has been amended several times since the original bill, and different states have different procedures for making the required disclosures.