How a Bucks County Courier Times investigation led to a change in state legislation
Bucks County Courier Times reporter Jo Ciavaglia was reading a story by the paper’s court reporter about the conviction of a local defense attorney when she noticed something that seemed off.
“The story, which was about the jury verdict, noted that her sentencing would be deferred so she could have an assessment by the state’s Sex Offender Assessment Board. I was confused. Why would someone convicted of custody interference need to be assessed to determine if she was a sexually violent predator? So I started investigating how this could be true,” she explained in an email.
In December 2012, the crime of interfering with child custody was added to Megan’s Law registration requirements in the state of Pennsylvania, meaning that any person convicted of the crime, regardless of an actual sexual crime taking place or not, would have to register as a sex offender for a minimum of 15 years.
After several of Ciavaglia’s Right-to-Know requests were denied on account of the information she was looking for — Megan’s Law list registrants whose primary offense was interference with child custody — was technically publically available, she was finally able to reach a compromise and was given a list of names.
After an extensive search of more than 6,000 profiles on the state’s Megan’s Law registration site, which she cross checked using Lexis-Nexis, court records and any past media articles about convictions, Ciavaglia found that in the cases of at least 34 of the 45 active registered sex offenders in Pennsylvania whose primary crime was related to interfering with child custody, there was no accusation of sexual crime.
The registration requirement also proved to come as a surprise to attorneys and judges, including William Ciancaglini, whose client was required to register after she plead guilty to interfering with the custody of her daughter after signing her out of school without the permission of the girl’s legal guardian.
Two days after her investigation was published, Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, who sponsored the original Megan’s Law bill in 1995, announced his intention to introduce a bill to remove interfering with child custody from the list of offenses that require registration as a sexual offender, citing Ciavaglia’s investigation for revealing the law’s “unintended consequences.”
Ciavaglia credits perseverance for helping her overcome the setbacks she encountered over the four-month course of her investigation.
“I knew this was an important story.”
Read the investigation here: