The Debate Over Megan's Law

For Maureen Kanka, the pain of her daughter's murder is as raw today as it was in 1994. She often visits Megan's Place - a park created on the site of the house in which her life was taken.

"There's times where I can't bear to come over here and there's times when I can't stay away," Maureen Kanka told CBS News Correspondent John Roberts.

But she takes some comfort in the belief that community notification laws bearing Megan's name now stand in forty-nine states.

"My daughter would be alive today if I realized there were three pedophiles living across the street from my home," Maureen Kanka said.

However, Megan's Law has raised objections from those who say that community notification is developing its own troubling legacy.

"Why don't you just hand them a torch and some lighter fluid and say go get 'em?" said Jack Furlong, a defense attorney who opposes Megan's law.

In Maine and California, sex offenders have taken their own lives after their communities were told where they were living. In New Jersey, an outraged neighbor shot at a sex offender's home, almost hitting an innocent woman who lived next door.

"I don't know how many people are going to have to kill themselves, I don't know how many houses are going to have to be burnt down, I don't know how many guns are going to be shot at innocent people before the message gets through that this law incites violence," Furlong said.

Arthur Goldsworthy, a supporter of Megan's Law, acknowledges that violence and other abuses of the law have been sparked by community notification.

Goldsworthy, a guidance counselor for thirty years, said he received a notification that a sex offender had moved into his neighborhood.

"The name and current known address of the individuals involved are as follows. Then it has my name," Goldsworthy said.

The notice was a hoax, and Goldsworthy still doesn't know who perpetrated it or why.

"It makes you feel like you didn't belong you were just someone on the fringes or something," Goldsworthy said.

"It's another example of people saying, 'Let me hurt someone under cover of Megan's Law,'" Furlong said.

One man - serving time for rape - has another concern. He says community notification fails to distinguish between those who are dangerous and those who are not.

"I get angry myself when I see guys in here that don't work hard and I'd be afraid to know that were living next door to my children," he said. "But in the same breath there's guys in here that work really hard. They don't want to do this again. They don't want to ruin anyone else's lives, but they want a second chance."

New Jersey Attorney General Peter Verniero contends that when a sex crime is committed - particulary in his state - the convicted "forfeits" his or her "ability to live anonymously."

Verneiro supports community notification despite several episodes of violene against sex offenders.

"It's not the law that results in vigilantism - it's the sex offender's own past criminal conduct which can inflame passions against himself," Verneiro said.

Other questions have been raised as to whether Megan's Law does anything to protect people outside the community where sex offenders live.

It is difficult to measure the positive impact of Megan's Law, namely how many children and others have been spared sexual abuse because they were notified. but for those who have been hurt once, the answer is clear

"We're taking about the safeguarding of children against a sex offender, somebody who chooses to have sex with kids," said Maureen Kanka. "And I think when you weigh it, it has to come down on the side of children. Always."

Reported by John Roberts
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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