Provision In Sex Offender Law Upheld

New York's highest court today upheld a key provision of the state's so-called Megan's Law, allowing the state to establish classifications for sex offenders.

The classification system means some sex offenders must register with authorities after their prison release.

In refusing to overturn a lower appeals court ruling, the New York Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that the classification system is not considered additional punishment.

Megan's Law was named after Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old New Jersey girl molested and murdered by a neighbor with a history of sexual crimes. The law also requires police to make public information about where violent sexual offenders are living after their release from prison.

Challenging the classification portion of the law, convicted sex offenders Darryl Stevens and Bernard Smith had been listed as risk-level 3 sex offenders, or sexually violent predators, at separate court hearings in 1996 and 1997.

Stevens and Smith were both convicted of sex crimes in Suffolk County in 1990 and 1993 respectively. New York's Megan's Law became effective in 1996.

The pair argued they were being punished retroactively without due process in being forced to register with authorities due to the classification.

Stevens' lawyer, Anna Perry, said that had her client known of the Megan's Law provisions he would not have pleaded guilty.

The Appellate Division of state Supreme Court had dismissed their appeals saying that no statutory authority existed for appeal of risk determination made under New York's Megan's Law.

Perry had no immediate comment on today's ruling and said no decision had been made about trying to take the lawsuit into the federal courts.

A spokesman for state Attorney General Dennis Vacco said he was "delighted" with the decision. Vacco had filed a friend of the court brief in the case.

"This is designed to enhance public safety by giving citizens information they need," Vacco spokesman Joe Mahoney said. "These two rapists were unhappy campers ... we say fine."

A portion of New York's Megan's Law that requires the registry be made public is currently tied up in a federal court lawsuit.

For detailed information about your region's implementation of Megan's Law, consult our interactive map.

Written by Shannon McCaffrey.
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