Change to Megan's Law may mean fewer registered sex offenders

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PITTSBURGH - Target 11 has uncovered a change to the Megan’s Law registry that may mean fewer people have to register as sex offenders.

As a mother of five children, Antoinette Ralph told Target 11 investigator Rick Earle she believes the Megan’s Law website that identifies registered sex offenders is a very important safety tool for all parents.

“It lets you know what’s in your neighborhood and who’s in your neighborhood. It lets you know what to look out for,” Ralph said.

However, some argue that new tougher standards that took effect two years ago have put people on the list who don’t belong.

“Megan’s Law as it stands right now is unfair because the public doesn’t recognize that a lot of people placed on there don’t belong and shouldn’t be on there,” said attorney Phil DiLucente.

DiLucente said one of his clients, former Rankin District Justice Ross Cioppa, doesn’t belong on the list.

According to DiLucente, Cioppa pleaded guilty to indecent assault involving an adult two years ago and was not forced to register as a sex offender. However, eight months later when the state enacted new standards, Cioppa was forced to sign up.

“It’s a tough pill to swallow for anyone who is placed in that situation,” DiLucente said.

But earlier this year, legislators amended the law and removed indecent assault convictions between 2005-2012.

One lawmaker told Earle it’s unfair to force offenders to register after their cases had been closed.

Still, state police refused to remove Cioppa’s name from the Megan’s Law website until a judge stepped in and ordered it taken down.

State police said there are instances in which a court may disagree with their interpretation of the law.

“It’s an extremely big relief and think about how many people this affects. It touched their jobs and their life,” DiLucente said.

Since the legislature amended the law, only Cioppa has been taken off the list. But Target 11 has learned that several hundred more could ultimately be cleared.

The legislature also removed several other crimes from the Megan’s Law, including child custody interference and unlawful restraint.

Since the new standards took effect two years ago, the number of offenders on the Megan’s Law website has increased from 12,000 to more than 16,000.

Remember, you can contact Rick Earle and have him look into the problems you’re dealing with. You can email him at target11@wpxi.com or reach him through Facebook and Twitter.