Target 11 investigates changes to Megan's law registry



PITTSBURGH - Tougher restrictions regulating sex offenders will go into effect on Dec. 20. These new restrictions will keep sex offenders on the Megan's law registry for more time and new crimes will also be added to Megan's law.

Target 11 investigator Rick Earle talked to people affected by the change, and he discovered that the new law is creating a big controversy.

Lawmakers told Earle that the tougher restrictions are designed to keep communities safe, but some defense attorneys contend that it goes way too far. They said it targets people who've already had their day in court, and it even includes some crimes that have nothing to do with sexual predators.

Earle spoke with one registered sex offender who's upset with the changes. Charles Barringer pleaded no contest to indecent assault, and he was only supposed to stay on the Megan's law website for 10 years, but the new law means he will likely remain on the list for at least 15 more years and possibly the rest of his life.

"I'm more or less kind of disappointed because I lost a lot of friends and family members. My family has a lot of get togethers that I can't go to because of my picture being on the computer," said Barringer, who maintains his innocence.

Currently, sex offenders in Pennsylvania are required to register for 10 years or life. The new system will divide them into three categories. The first requires sex offenders to register for 15 years. Tier two calls for them to be on the website for 25 years and tier three is for life.

And certain crimes, even if they aren't sexual in nature like invasion of privacy and unlawful restraint, will be added to Megan's law.

And the changes apply to anyone currently serving time or on parole or probation.

Defense attorney Phil Dilucente represents a number of clients who will now be forced to register as sex offenders even though they were never told that at sentencing.

"It's going to open a can of worms. When you have any type of law that's passed and there is a retroactivity, where there's punitive punishment for laws that people have already been convicted for that in and of itself is problematic," said Dilucente.

And state police told Target 11 that they expect an additional 1,500 to 2,500 offenders will be added to the database under the new rules. About 500 of them will be here in Allegheny County.

State Sen. Kim Ward co-sponsored the legislation calling for tougher standards.

"I do think it's fair. The law is a little tougher and I'm not going to sit here and apologize for making a tougher law to protect our kids from predators," said Ward, of Hempfield Township, Westmoreland County.

Ward said the new law also closes a major loophole that allowed out-of-state sex offenders to move to Pennsylvania without registering.

"You're not just a predator in one state if you are a predator, so we need to know who's here, where they are, are they near our schools. What are they doing," said Ward.

Some defense attorneys tell Target 11 they are gearing up right now to challenge the new law. Meanwhile, lawmakers said they are confident the changes will stand up in a court of law.