Sexually based crimes strike at the very core of the human spirit. In the wake of sexual violence are scarred victims, shattered lives, disrupted families and frightened communities. Media accounts of previously convicted sexual offenders committing new violent sexual assaults have become commonplace. A new approach to dealing with the offender and protecting citizens was in order.FEDERAL FACTS
The genesis for this new approach was guided by four Federal acts. They are named after the victims of violent/sexual assaults. These are the victims' stories:
In July 1981, Adam Walsh, age 6, was watching other children play videogames in a Florida department store while his mother shopped in another area of the store less than 75 feet away. In October 1989, Jacob Wetterling, age 11, bicycled home from a store with his brother and a friend in St. Joseph, Minnesota. In September 1990, Houston real estate agent, Pam Lychner prepared to show a vacant residence to a prospective buyer. In July 1994, Megan Kanka, age 7, accepted an invitation from a neighbor in Hamilton Township, New Jersey, to see his puppy. As they went about their daily routines, Walsh, Wetterling, Lychner, and Kanka could not have known they were fated to become crime victims, or that their names would become synonymous with Federal laws mandating more stringent control of sexual offenders.
Walsh’s mother returned to the videogame area in under ten minutes, but she could not find her son. Adam’s parents assisted local law enforcement with the dispersal of information relating to their son’s disappearance, and thousands of fliers with Adam’s photograph were distributed throughout the local area. However, sixteen days after Adam disappeared from the store, his decapitated head was found. Adam’s body was never located. Adam’s death garnered national attention, and his father became an advocate for victims of violent crimes. Adam’s father later became the host of a National television program dedicated to the apprehension of fugitives. There were no arrests made with Adam’s disappearance and murder.
In July 2006, U.S. President George W. Bush signed into law The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act. The Federal statute instructed states to apply identical criteria for posting sexual offender data on the Internet.
Wetterling's ride home was interrupted by an armed man wearing a nylon mask who ordered the boy's companions to flee. Wetterling has not been seen since. Investigators later learned that, unbeknownst to local law enforcement, halfway houses in St. Joseph housed sexual offenders after their release from prison. Wetterling's disappearance transformed his mother, Patty, a self-described "stay-at-home mom," into a tireless advocate for missing children. She was appointed to a governor's task force that recommended stronger sexual offender registration requirements in Minnesota.
The more stringent requirements were subsequently implemented on a national basis when the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act was included in the Federal Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.
The Wetterling Act required states to establish stringent registration programs for sex offenders – including life-long registration for a subclass of offenders classified as sexual predators.
Awaiting Lychner at the vacant house was a twice-convicted felon who brutally assaulted the former flight attendant. Her life was saved when her husband arrived on the scene and interrupted the attack. The experience motivated Lychner to form Justice for All, a Texas-based victims' rights advocacy group that lobbies for tougher sentences for violent criminals.
U.S. Senators Phil Gramm of Texas and Joseph Biden of Delaware credited Lychner with helping to craft the language of a bill that established a national computer database to track sexual offenders. The bill was named the Pam Lychner Sexual Offender Tracking and Identification Act of 1996 to honor the activist after she and her two daughters were killed in the explosion of TWA Flight 800 off the coast of Long Island, New York, in July 1996. The Lychner Act amended the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 to require the Federal Bureau of Investigation to establish the national offender database and to handle sexual offender registration and notification in states unable to maintain "minimally sufficient" programs of their own.
The neighbor who invited Megan Kanka to see his puppy was a twice-convicted pedophile, who raped and murdered her, then dumped her body in a nearby park. Megan's grieving parents said they never would have let their daughter travel their neighborhood freely if they had been alerted to the presence of a convicted sexual offender living across the street from their residence. Congress passed the Federal version of "Megan's Law," another amendment to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, in 1996.
The Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act (enacted in 1994), the Federal version of "Megan's Law" (enacted in 1996), the Pam Lychner Sexual Offender Tracking and Identification Act (also enacted in 1996), and the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act (enacted in 2006). - - In brief, the statutes require states to establish registration programs so local law enforcement will know the whereabouts of sexual offenders released into their jurisdictions, and notification programs so the public can be warned about sexual offenders living in the community (The Lychner Act also requires the creation of a national sexual offender registry, and it requires the Federal Bureau of Investigation to handle registration in states that lack "minimally sufficient" programs).
Governor Tom Ridge sought to address this issue during the 1995 Special Session on Crime. During this session, legislation was introduced that would:
On October 21, 1995, Governor Ridge signed into law Act 24 of 1995, commonly referred to as "Megan's Law," which became effective on April 21, 1996. There were several amendments to Megan's Law as a result of court decisions.
Then, on November 24, 2004, Governor Edward Rendell signed into law Senate Bill No. 92, which made significant changes to Megan's Law. Most notably, information on all registered sexual offenders would now be available to the public through the Internet.
On December 20, 2011, Governor Tom Corbett signed into law Senate Bill No. 1183. S.B.1183 also known as the “Adam Walsh Bill”, which became effective December 20, 2012. This action brought the Commonwealth into compliance with The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act. Pennsylvania now joins the coordinated and comprehensive national sexual offender registry. Other noteworthy enhancements that were brought into law include: Expanding the list of sexual offenses that require sexual offender registration; and Extending sexual offender registration requirements to juvenile offenders who were adjudicated of Rape, Involuntary Deviate Sexual Intercourse, Aggravated Indecent Assault or adjudication(s) of solicitation, attempt, or conspiracy of the same.
On July 19, 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a ruling in which it determined that Pennsylvania’s sexual offender registration requirements were unconstitutional when applied to those offenders who committed their offense prior to the enactment of the “Adam Walsh Bill” on December 20, 2012. As a result of the court decision, on February 21, 2018, Governor Tom Wolf signed into law Act 10 of 2018, which substantially changed Megan’s Law registration requirements. Act 10 addressed those individuals who committed their offense before December 20, 2012. Offenders required to register by Act 10 now have either a ten-year or lifetime registration requirement, as would have been the requirement prior to enactment of the “Adam Walsh Bill”.