As seen in our article on Criminal Law, most criminal statutes are subject to State rather than Federal law, with the Federal criminal law pertaining to violation of specifically enacted Federal law or interstate aspects of criminal acts.

One area that the Federal government has stepped in pertains to protection of children from various criminal acts and this law supersedes and is in addition to any state law on the subject matters. The Federal law goes beyond mere punishment for a crime and concentrates on a nationwide approach to registration of sex offenders. Its basics are described in this article.

The Basic Act:

The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act (“Act”) is a United States of America federal statute to protect the public, especially children, from violent sex offenders, by implementing a more comprehensive, nationalized system for registration of sex offenders. The Walsh Act became law in 2006. This Act was named for Adam Walsh, a boy who was abducted from a Florida shopping mall and later found killed.

The majority of the provisions of the Act are codified at 42 U.S.C. §16911 et seq. The Act seeks to:

1. Provide a revised sex offender registration system.

2. Make related and appropriate amendments to the child and sex related federal criminal laws.

3. Provide child protective grant programs.

4. Conduct programs and campaigns to prevent and punish sex offenders, and others who victimize children.

5. Improve Federal criminal law enforcement resources and procedures to ensure sex offender compliance with registration and notification.

6. Provide public and police access to information and resources needed to ensure that children are not attacked or abused.

Some Details of Relevant Provisions:

Under the Act, the United States Attorney General is responsible for issuing guidelines and regulations in interpretation and implementation of the provisions of the Act. This has resulted in numerous regulations being promulgated over the years since the Act was passed.

The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) is a part of the Walsh Act. The Act creates a national sex offender registry. The Walsh Act calls for state conformity to various aspects of sex offender registration, including information that must be collected, duration of registration requirement for classifications of offenders, verification of registry information, access to and sharing of information, and penalties for failure to register as required.

The data to be provided includes information such as the offender's name, address, date of birth, employer, and photo. Pursuant to the Act, if the states fail to comply with the federal requirements within three years of the implementation of the act, (2009) the non complying states will be subject to a 10 percent reduction of the Byrne law enforcement assistance grants.

Each jurisdiction must include the following information for each offender in the registry: a physical description; the criminal offense; the criminal history of the offender, including dates of arrests and convictions and correctional or release status; a current photograph; fingerprints and palm prints; a DNA sample, a photocopy of a valid driver's license or ID card; and any other information required by the Attorney General.

The Walsh Act requires a three-tier classification system for sex offenders. The Act mandates Tier 3 (most serious tier) offenders to update their whereabouts every three months with lifetime registration requirements. Tier 2 offenders are required to update their whereabouts every six months with 25 years of registration, and Tier 1 offenders that includes minors as young as 14 years of age must update their whereabouts every year with 15 years of registration.

Failure to register and update information is a felony under the law.


Many have argued that the need to register publically has imposed upon the convicted a tremendous burden and they have a point. Anyone who has known one facing this requirement learns that the public obliquity, the constant humiliation, and the decades of the requirement to register are difficult obstacles to going back to a normal life. As one person put it, murder imposes less stringent punishment than the requirements of this law.

But backers of the law stress that this is not about punishment but about protecting children and those who have violated the law have to face that fact that their acts now impose upon them this requirement so that the most helpless members of society are better protected.

But whether one supports the law or not, it is the law and is effectively enforced in most of the nation.