When Megan’s Law Comes Home

While reading Peter Hong’s excellent account of what it is like to live near a registered sex offender, I thought about my own experience with the Megan’s Law database earlier this summer.

Although I live in Los Angeles, I frequently go home during the weekends to visit my parents, hang out with my siblings, chat with the grandparents (when they’re in town), and play with our dog, VR.

My family lives on a quiet street in an unincorporated suburb of Los Angeles County. My parents moved there from East LA in 1978, just a few weeks before my older brother was born. Since then, we’ve forged strong relationships with our neighbors. As new families move in, we get to know them too.

The newest residents are a family of 8; a couple, four teenage girls and two boys about 8 years old.

Late in the summer, Dan (the father) came over to our house. He talked to my dad, a grey haired man who never acts on impulse.

“Do you know John Doe?” Dan asked angrily while his daughters stood behind him.

One of Dan’s relatives looked up the family’s new address on the Megan’s Law website. The results showed that a registered sex offender named John Doe lived just a few doors down.

As the father of 6 children, Dan was rightfully concerned. He wanted to march over to John Doe’s house across the street and confront him.

My dad vouched for John Doe, a long time neighbor, although he didn’t know what information was up on the Megan’s Law website. The way my dad figured, it wouldn’t be good for a fight to break out between the two men, both of who are married and have children.

My dad told me about the narrowly avoided mess later that day in a serious “I think you should know this” tone.

“Dad, I already know about John Doe.”

A few weeks earlier, I had checked another website listing convicted sex offenders. John Doe’s name came up.

However, it didn’t make me want to run out and launch a campaign to banish John Doe from my neighborhood. The website I checked distinguished between those who had committed offenses against minors and other sex offenders. John Doe had not been convicted of molesting a child and his offense wasn’t clear based on that website.

I explained this all to my dad and then offered to show him the website.

This time, we checked the official Megan’s Law website run by the Office of the Attorney General. I inputted my family’s address. Directly over the star representing my home sat a small blue box. I clicked it and saw John Doe’s name and photo. His offense was listed as 261.2, rape by force.

“Dad, look… he’s on here because he’s been convicted of rape.”

I suddenly felt uneasy.

My dad explained more about what he knew of John Doe’s past troubles with the law. According to him, John Doe served time in prison. My dad thought it was for a bar fight, but now wondered if it was for rape.

Truthfully, we weren’t sure what to do with the information. Were we supposed to gather up our pitchforks, make picket signs, confront John Doe, and print fliers to distribute to our neighbors?

This wasn’t some new guy who had just moved to the neighborhood like in Hong’s case or in Desperate Housewives. John Doe and his family have been a part of our neighborhood and lives for many years.

In the years John Doe had lived across the street, he had never done anything to hurt me or my family or even make us feel threatened. His worst offense was taking too long to return a borrowed tool.

Yes, he had committed a horrible crime, but he had also served his punishment and did what was required of him under Megan’s Law.

My dad didn’t tell Dan about what we learned fearing our new neighbor’s reaction while considering what he knew about John Doe after living across the street from him for many years.

I’m not sure he made the right decision.

8 thoughts on “When Megan’s Law Comes Home”

  1. There’s a lot I could say on the subject. We bought a condo a few years ago. About two weeks after our escrow closed, the escrow closed on an adjacent unit – bought by someone that had been convicted of a sex crime.

    We didn’t find out until two years later. A few months after we found on, for unrelated reasons, we put our condo on the market. On the last day that the buyers could back out without penalty, guess what happened? They went on the Megan’s Law website, found out about our neighbor, and cancelled the buy.

    It was very disappointing. The offender was very open about his circumstances with the neighbors. But, I was torn – I was also a victim of this offender.

    We eventually sold, but not before we ended up dropping our agent. We dropped him for many reasons, but one of them was because he wanted to disclose, up front, the registered sex offender.

    I consulted the State about that, and they agreed with me that it can’t be done. There is a statement in the typical buyer’s contract that says ‘if you want more information about Megan’s Law, go to this website … ‘ But, you really can’t say more than that. It’s one of the (many) things that a good buyer has to do – research about the place they are going to live.

    Let’s face it – in SoCal, there are very places you can move, where you won’t be near a registered sex offender. If you believe in the system (and I do), you know that they have done their time in prison, and they have registered – those are pluses in their favor. How many more people are breaking the law by not registering? And what about those that haven’t been caught?

    This new resident had the opportunity to find out about this person before they moved in. They should have done their homework and researched it before they committed to buying. When we bought our new house, we certainly did. (Nothing we could have done about the condo, as he didn’t live there when we moved in).

  2. There is a guy on my street that stole a car once. I hate the way he looks at my car all the time, it makes me nervous.

  3. My dad didn’t tell Dan about what we learned fearing our new neighbor’s reaction while considering what he knew about John Doe after living across the street from him for many years.
    I’m not sure he made the right decision.

    It’s interesting to me that you ended with this. Why aren’t you sure? Did something happen to make you doubt his decision?

  4. David,
    I haven’t thought too much about Megan’s Law and buying/selling a home, but your feedback adds another issues to think about with this rather complex issue.

    In Hong’s article, he specifically addresses the fact that there are no laws requiring felons who murdered or stole cars, robbed homes, etc to register with a public database. You can be living next to someone convicted of murder and you wouldn’t know it. Thus, the sex offender will live with the stigma in his neighborhood while the murderer will probably not have to deal with it.

    There’s nothing that made me doubt my father’s decision. I didn’t disagree with him at the time. If my father had been gravely concerned about John Doe, he surely would have said something or picked up on it sooner. The only reason I don’t know if it was right was because our new neighbor, Dan, came to my father for advice and my dad didn’t fully disclose what he learned. My guess is that Dan and his family still don’t know about John Doe.

  5. There are certain crimes that are so heinous you should lose your right to participate in civilized society on your own terms. Killing another human being in something other than self-defense is one. Rape or sexual abuse, especially of a child, is another.

    As for the neighbors in the LAT article, bravo for them. They have as much right to protest and expose as the offender has to live there (if indeed he does so within the confines of the state’s regulations — if he violates any of them, send him back to jail). Don’t do the crime if you can’t stand the life-long impact of a conviction. Seems pretty simple.


    PLEASE be aware of what is going on in this country. Incidents like these are growing across the country at an alarming rate. If even ONE parent can be spared the hell and anguish of watching their child’s life utterly destroyed, then this site has done it’s job. These kids’ lives are over. Once convicted they will begin serving out the rest of their lives under the social death sentence of being a registered sex offender.



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