[ExI] Megan's Law

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Fri Aug 22 07:39:12 UTC 2008

Mike wrote

(From: "Mike Dougherty" <msd001 at gmail.com>
Sent: Wednesday, August 20, 2008 8:25 PM
Subject: Re: [ExI] Implications of Sociopath Testing)

> I don't enjoy discussing the dark nature of criminal behavior, but
> this page illustrates the point I was trying to make about our loss of
> liberty for the sake of public safety:
> http://ericrichardson.com/verbal/megans_law/

Megan's Law
by Eric Richardson

In 1994, a 7-year-old New Jersey girl named Megan Kanka was kidnapped, raped, and murdered by a previously convicted sex-offender 
that lived in her neighborhood. In the ensuing weeks an uproar arose, and legislation was hastily crafted that would require all sex 
offenders to register their current address with the local authorities.

Observe first, however, that Megan's
Law is doing nothing that could not already
be done by a sufficiently active and vigilant
free populace. All that would be needed is
for the names of criminal offenders anywhere
in the world to continue to be made publicly
known, as now, in newspapers or other media,
and for the locals to simply check on any
current or new resident in their community.
This law just makes it easier. (That being
said, I'm still against it, probably for nearly
the same reasons as Mike is.)

On top of this, police would notify the immediate community of the offender's presence in order to alert them to the possibility of 
future repeat transgressions. Critics argued that the bill would undermine the rights of criminals already punished for their 
crimes. Proponents toed a very utilitarian line, holding the wide benefits of increased public awareness of local danger to be 
greater than the damage to the rights of the offender. The law which came to pass and is referred to as Megan's Law has subsequently 
been emulated in dozens of states around the country, and has come under severe attack. These attacks do not focus primarily on 
whether or not Megan's Law is effective legislation, but instead on its implications on civil liberty. Megan's Law, though arguably 
useful in helping to decrease the rate of repeat offenses, is unsupportable because it discriminates against sex offenders, 
impinging upon their rights as American citizens.

Ah yes, "rights" again. Spread the
confusion, spread the miscommunication!

Utilitarianism, in its most basic form, says that an action is good if it has a net gain on the happiness of a society. An action is 
bad if it has a negative net effect on happiness. As John Stuart Mill put it, ``actions are right in proportion as they tend to 
promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness'' (Mill 36). The utilitarian measurement of good considers 
the individual only so much as the individual affects the societal net happiness, for ``the happiness which forms the utilitarian 
standard of what is right in conduct, is not the agent's own happiness, but that of all concerned'' (Mill 38). Proponents of Megan's 
Law justify its negative effect on the happiness of sex offenders by pointing at the arguably greater gains in the happiness of the 
community. Since there is a positive net gain in happiness resulting from its implementation, the law must be good. This kind of 
thinking is quite opposite the one that grounds American government and idealism.

That's what I call "short-sighted"
utilitarianism. I find utilitarianism
in the long run identical to basic
legal rights normally available in
Western countries, and certainly
advocated by the American

The foundations of American government were designed to guarantee all citizens the full protection of the law. All citizens of the 
United States have a right to privacy.

Hah! What a joke. Where is such
a device found in *any* founding
document? It doesn't exist, and it
shouldn't exist. *Knowledge* is
not what is harmful; power is what
is harmful!

In 1928, in Olmstead vs. US, Louis Brandeis said that ``the right to be left alone [is] the most comprehensive of rights, and the 
right most valued by civilized men.'' Sex offenders, like any other criminals, are convicted and sentenced for their acts. They go 
to prison, they serve their time, and they are released. Yet, though similar treatment is not found for the perpetrators of any 
other crime, laws such as Megan's Law cause sex offenders to suffer for their acts long after they are released. Public notification 
attaches a stigma to the released sex offender, making it much more difficult, if not impossible, for him to carry on a normal 
rehabilitated life. An article by Judith Sheppard in the American Journalism Review tells the story of a man whose house was 
picketed as the result of community notification. Publicity of this picketing caused the news to reach his employer, who then fired 
him. The man has since ``been forced to move at least two more times'' in order to escape discrimination (Sheppard 3). Opening up an 
individual's past affairs to the community, regardless of the social good it may do, is a clear violation of that individual's right 
to be left alone.

Except for the last sentence, that
is exactly correct! There is no
"right to be left alone". In fact,
(again, sorry) almost every sentence
that uses that damned word is misguided.

Since its inception, the United States has battled with finding an appropriate balance between laws and rights. As early as 1759, 
Benjamin Franklin warned of the danger of security through laws that temper freedom. ``They that can give up essential liberty to 
obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.'' Many times in its history, the government of the United 
States has pushed aside personal freedoms in order to protect the majority, and often these instances are reflected upon regrettably 

Yass, as soon as the real danger is
passed, then people are oh so, so
sorry! They simply cannot put
themselves in the shoes of their
former, worried or angry selves.
But (fortunately) when trouble
arises again, their instincts almost
always reliably guide them towards
what needs to be done.

Two example in particular illustrate the folly of a reduction of rights. During World War II the government imprisoned 
Japanese-Americans under the pretense that they were possible agents of the Japanese and could not be trusted to be left in society. 
These American citizens were denied the protections offered them by law and carted away during the time of trouble.

And had there been a real Japanese
invasion (oh, yes, yes, *today* we
now know that that was not in the
cards and could not really have
happened), an absolutely huge number
of Japanese would have flocked to the
conqueror's colors. It always has
happened in history, and it always will.

The 1950s brought Joseph McCarthy and his rabid persecution of those believed to be associated with Communism. Though as Americans 
these people were guaranteed the right to have and speak their opinions, paranoia of national security implications again caused 
safety to trump basic rights. Though these actions may have been supported at the time, today public sentiment would likely 
unwilling to defend and approve of these historical cases.

"Believed to be associated with Stalin's
spies and believed to be associated
with international communism? Were
there or were there not communist
sympathizers and spies in the State
Department just as Joseph McCarthy

Given the historical precedent of past rights compromises and the view now taken of them, it is illogical to argue that in this case 
an exception has finally been found and rights can be diminished. The mindset of Maureen Kanka, Megan's mother, illustrates 
perfectly the utilitarian mindset used by proponents of Megan's Law. ``I'm tired of the pedophile's rights being put above our 
children. We can't protect our children if we don't know where the danger lies'' (Jerome 2). The validity of community notification 
laws depends on the premise that informing the community is more important than the rights of the sex offender, yet this is simply 
not the case in American law. The framework of American government sets up fundamental rights possessed by every citizen. It does 
not make exceptions to those rights for situations where it might be helpful for certain members of society not to have them.

Despite the stringent requirements set up by our system of government, legislation such as Megan's Law continues to be drafted 
because it appeals to the public psyche. Emotions are powerful, and they can lead to the abandonment of rational thought when it 
comes to lawmaking.

Oh come now. One man's
"rational thought" is another
man's "emotional over-
reaction". Please.

People like to feel safe, and therefore are prone to letting emotional appeals better the more fundamental requirements of justice. 
If there is a law that will protect citizens from some danger, they are very likely to push for it, regardless of any other 
implications that law may have. Public opinion is a fickle friend, and is often concerned exclusively with the short-term view. It 
is the responsibility of lawmakers to counter this with careful reasoning. Law is a powerful thing, and must only be passed after a 
careful consideration of all its effects. To do otherwise is an abuse of the public trust. The use of legislation as a gesture, 
whether it be a gesture of support or a sign of being tough, is irresponsible.

That's completely right. Any law
that regulates or restricts any
freedom needs to come under
very, very strict scrutiny! And
any sentence that has two or
more "any"s in it is making
awfully powerful claims. But
I stand by them.

And, by the way, there is no
freedom that guarantees that
your email won't be read by
your neighbor who has somehow
cracked your encryption, or by
your employer, or by the government
(that is too well funded for most
purposes). It's an arms race, that's all.

Lawmakers are elected to preside over the good of the public, and must act accordingly. When a small child cries about wanting a 
toy, it's common sense that good parenting will not always give the child what he wants. The child may not understand, but the 
parent has a larger perspective and can see that the toy may not be in the child's best interests. Lawmakers, the parents of our 
country, must likewise be prepared to make decisions that may be unpopular with constituents not prepared to think about the 

Oh, Jesus Christ. Look at this!
The author really believes that
the government is our mommy
and our daddy, and has utterly
no reluctance to openly say so!

Much of the debate over Megan's Law has been about whether or not the law is useful in preventing crime, but this argument is 
irrelevant to the fundamental issue at hand. Perhaps there are things that could be done that may save lives, but if they are at the 
expense of basic rights the cost is far too high to bear. It is a horrible tragedy that events such as Megan Kanka's kidnapping and 
death occur, and those who commit such crimes should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

Oh yeah? Why wasn't that clown
executed, anyway? He took the
life of a small child. What more
does society need to solve this
problem? But no! Bleeding hearts
like the author must have it both
ways: they'll spend untold dollars
to avoid executing this animal,
untold dollars "rehabilitating" him,
and then untold dollars protecting
him from further retribution by
citizens informed of his crimes.

However, the fullest extent of the law is where that punishment must stop. The consequence of living in a society that puts the 
utmost value on freedom is that sometimes people die.

Well, everyone except child-killers,
rapists, and murderers must die. We
must protect and nurture the killers
because it would be oh so unjust for
us to in turn kill them.

A country where freedom and individual rights are protected is not going to be perfect. There will always be those who commit 
crimes, and in a free society the consequences of those crimes may well at times be more severe. However, the long-term benefits of 
freedom far outweigh the short-term benefits of reduced crime.

That is so, agrees Lee.

A frightening trend running through the American populace today is the constant exchange of liberty for the promise of another 
slight bit of safety. America is a nation that feels it is under threat, and therefore will do whatever it has to do to regain its 
notion of safety. As a nation, the United States is falling ever so slowly away from the ideals upon which it was founded. The 
erosion of rights is not a sudden thing. It doesn't come all at once. Instead, the erosion of rights is a constant nudging of little 

Yes. Every single new regulation,
every single new law, every single
new licensing requirement, law
prohibiting guns, law prohibiting
drugs, law prohibiting property
owners saying who and who may
not use their premises---every
one of these indeed chips away
at our freedoms.

The war on sex offenders leads to the new laws reducing the rights of released criminals; the war on terrorism brings new, broader 
phone-tapping laws.

Yeah, in a lot of cases the so-called
"rights" of released criminals who
never should have been released.
And as for phone tapping, I just
don't give a damn if anyone taps
my phone. Once more: Knowledge
is not our enemy, power in the
wrong (usually government) hands
is the enemy.

Slowly, but surely, the vaunted freedom of the American citizen fades away. It is because of the infringement of these rights that 
legislation such as Megan's Law, though arguably usefully in crime prevention, must not be allowed to pass.

Quite so.


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