NEW YORK – The rape and murder of 7-year-old Megan Kanka in the mid-90s led to the creation of Megan's Law — legislation designed to alert neighborhoods about convicted sex offenders living nearby.
Today, some 30 states have chosen to publish lists of sex offenders on the Internet, available for all to see. One such Connecticut-based Website was shut down, because a judge said the online exposure stigmatized criminals — a move that has met with outrage within the community.
"We think this decision is dead wrong and dangerous," said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who is fighting to reinstate the Website and has taken the case to federal court.
Blumenthal argues that for safety's sake, both the public and the police need to know the whereabouts of sex offenders.
"Parents have a right to know when there's a convicted sex offender living and working nearby," he said.
Like those in other states, Connecticut's disputed Website featured thousands of criminals. With an average of 150,000 hits a month, information on featured sex offenders reached a large audience — a consequence that opponents argue is unfair.
"Once a person has paid his or her debt to society, society doesn't really have an additional right to punish a person beyond that," said Donna Lieberman of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
But don't tell that to Marc Klaas, whose daughter Polly was abducted and murdered by a parolee. He says the Websites save lives, and has created one of his own to help make communities safer.
"Megan's law is about accessing information on registered sex offenders who live within your community, and if you're going to take this Website down you're going to hinder the ability of people to do that," he said.
Some constitutional law experts say that the Connecticut case, now before the federal court in New York, could set a precedent.
Regardless of its decision, you will still be able to go to the local police department in most states to find out if there's a sex offender living in your neighborhood.