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(SACRAMENTO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today announced legislation to post Megan's Law information on the Internet was approved by the California Legislature and sent to the governor.
"Megan's Law is an invaluable tool used by thousands of parents to better protect their children from registered sex offenders who may pose a danger to the community," Lockyer said. "By authorizing my office to post this information on the Internet, millions of families will be able use their home or library computer to look up information about registered sex offenders living in their neighborhoods."
Sponsored by Lockyer, AB 488 by Assemblywoman Nicole Parra, D-Hanford, requires the California Department of Justice (DOJ) to make information about individuals required to register as sex offenders available on an Internet web site by July 1, 2005. The site will provide detailed information, including the registered home address of the state's most serious sex offenders. Included in that category will be offenders who have been convicted of committing a lewd act upon a child under the age of 14, committing a sex crime that included force or fear as an element, or convicted of two or more sex offenses in separate trials.
Also included in that category are those who have been deemed by a court to be a sexually violent predator. A sexually violent predator is defined as an individual who has been convicted of a sexually violent offense against two or more victims and who has a diagnosed mental disorder that makes the person a danger to the health and safety of others in that it is likely that he or she will engage in sexually violent criminal behavior.
For the majority of other individuals required to register as a sex offenders, the web site will contain the same information currently provided on the DOJ Megan's Law database: name, aliases, age, gender, race, physical description (including scars, marks and tattoos), photograph (if available), convictions requiring registration, and county and zip code where last registered.
As under current law, information on a small number of convicted sex offenders determined to not pose a threat to public safety or who were adjudicated in juvenile court will not be available to the public via the web site.
AB 488 provides that any person who uses information about a registered sex offender posted on the Internet site to commit a misdemeanor shall be subject to a penalty of $10,000-$50,000; if the information is used to commit a felony, the bill provides for a five-year prison sentence.
The bill requires the DOJ to make reasonable efforts to notify convicted sex offenders that information about individuals required to register as sex offenders will be posted on the Internet. These efforts will include press releases and information posted on the Attorney General's website. The bill also requires the Attorney General's Office to notify those convicted sex offenders who are eligible to be excluded from the website how to obtain an exclusion. If AB 488 is signed into law by the governor, the Attorney General will update information on his website, at www.ag.ca.gov/megan.
"This legislation will assist law enforcement officers in protecting public safety by enlisting the help of millions of Californians keep an eye on their communities," Lockyer said. "It has been a long battle, but this bill strikes a fair balance between individual privacy and the need to protect the public against potential danger."
In 1947, California became the first state in the country to require sex offenders to register with law enforcement officials. In 1996, after passage of the federal Megan's Law, the state began making information available to the public about "high-risk" and "serious" offenders. More than 30 states currently provide Megan's Law information on the Internet.
The Attorney General has fought to make Megan's Law information more accessible to the public for more than three years. In addition to supporting efforts to post the information on the Internet, Lockyer unveiled a new system in March 2002 that updates the Megan's Law information available at police and sheriff's stations every 24 hours. The database also provides information about registered sex offenders in 13 languages: Arabic, Armenian, Cambodian, Chinese, English, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese.
The DOJ also staffs Megan's Law viewing booths at county fairs and the State Fair. Last year, more than 6,575 fair-goers visited the State Fair booth last year, recording 30 "hits," or incidents in which a viewer identified a registrant who may pose a risk to the public. Examples of "hits" include cases in which a registrant convicted of child molestation was identified as a coach of a youth soccer team, and a convicted rapist was identified as an apartment maintenance worker who had unrestricted access to tenant units.
The DOJ also has taken steps to assist law enforcement officials in ensuring the registration information is accurate. The DOJ notifies law enforcement agencies when a sex offender has failed to re-register as required by law, and if a new address for a sex offender registrant has been recorded by another agency, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles.