On May 17, 1996, President Clinton signed the federal version of Megan's Law, which mandated uniform sex offender registration in all 50 States. This law also provided for community notification by providing the States with the discretion to disclose information about registered sex offenders. New York State's version of Megan's Law, named The Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA), was signed by Governor Pataki in July, 1995 and became effective in January, 1996. The text of the statute can be found at Correction Law Article 6c, Section 168. The key components of this act are the registration of sex offenders, maintenance of a registry of sex offenders, and community registration regarding the location of certain sex offenders.

The Sex Offender Registration Act requires anyone on parole or probation or imprisoned for a sex offense as of January 21,1996 to register with the Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), the agency responsible for the administration of the sex offender registry. In addition, sex offenders sentenced to probation, local jail, or state prison after that date must register upon their return to the community. The list of registerable offenses can be found and accessed through the NY State Criminal Justice Services Web site.

Any person registered under the act is assigned a risk level. This determines the extent of information that can be made available to the public as well as how long the offender is required to be registered under the law. There are three levels of risk: Level 1 (low), Level 2 (moderate), and Level 3 (high). As a general rule, the sentencing court will determine an offender’s risk level either at the time of sentence in probation cases or when the offender is released from custody in jail or prison cases. A Board of Examiners of Sex Offenders evaluates cases and makes risk level recommendations to the court in cases which the Court may not possess up to date information on an offender being released from prison or jail.

If an offender is designated as level 1, then very little information can be disseminated. Such person will be listed in the registry, but no other information will be available. If designated a level 2 or 3 offender, information including photographs, offense description, and any special conditions imposed by the Court or parole can be available. For level 3 offenders, the exact address of the offender can be made available. For level 2 offenders, an address by zip code only is available.

Level 1 and 2 sex offenders registered prior to March 11, 2002 are registered for 10 years, and level 3 offenders registered before this date are registered for life. This life registration may be shortened by the sentencing court after an offender has been registered for a minimum of 13 years. Sex offenders whose level designation hearings were held on or after March 11, 2002, are registered for 10 years unless they have been designated a sexual predator, a sexually violent offender, or a predicate sex offender by the sentencing court, in which case they must register for life.

SORA provides for community notification about sex offenders in a variety of ways. Local law enforcement agencies where an offender resides or moves to are notified of the sex offender registration. These agencies may release information on level 2 or level 3 sex offenders in their community to "entities with vulnerable populations related to the offense".

DCJS also maintains a subdirectory of level three sex offenders. Photographs of all level three offenders are kept in the directory. A copy of this subdirectory is distributed to local law enforcement agencies throughout the State, and they are required to allow the public access to this document. This subdirectory may also be accessed through the DCJS website. The subdirectory can be searched by name, county, or zip code.

Lastly, pursuant to SORA, a toll free number exists for the general public's use to determine whether an individual is a convicted sex offender who is required to register. This number is 1 (800) 262-3257. Callers must be 18 years old and must provide his/her name, address and telephone number to receive information from this line. In order to learn if someone is registered as a sex offender under SORA, a caller must have the person's name and one of the following identifiers: a street address and apartment number, driver's license number, social security number, or birth date.