Friday, November 21, 2008

Court of Appeal Strikes Down Voter-Approved Restrictions on Released Sex Offenders

(image from Megan's Law website)

As many readers may know, many states have implemented laws that meticulously regulate the lives of released sex offenders after imprisonment. These restrictions often include a requirement to register on a sex offender database, which can be searched online, and a requirement to notify the community about a paroled sex offender who has moved in. In addition, some states impose residence restrictions on sex offenders.

In 2006, CA voters approved Prop 83 ("Jessica's Law"), which included a series of such restrictions. Yesterday, the 4th District Court of Appeal found the residence restrictions to be unconstitutional. Per Prop 83, sex offenders were prohibited from living within 2,000 feet of a school or a park; the court, according to the Chronicle, has ruled that Prop 83 is "banishment by another name".

This ruling is quite interesting, because, as the good folks blogging on the Criminal Appeal blog astutely observe, CA district courts have interpreted other pieces of sex offender related legislation in deference to, and consideration of, the perceived voters' wishes. For example, the court has interpreted a discrepancy between laws regarding the two-year-commitment of sexually violent predators in favor of the voters' perceived wishes. It seems, though, that the residency requirements in particular were more controversial and more "ripe for constitutional attack", as per the other team of good folks blogging on CrimProf Blog.

To get a sense of the extent of the limitations, I recommend you click on the Family Watchdog link, which will provide you with a map of registered sex offenders in your area, as well as information on each and every one of the registered sex offenders. As you'll see in the maps, which include school locations, residence restrictions might rule out many areas for living, including much of San Francisco.

The Chronicle reports that the 4th District Court ruling will not change the situation for new offenders, but will only impact limitations imposed on people whose crimes were committed prior to Prop 83's passage.

A couple of other interesting things regarding sex offender registration, which probably would merit posts of their own: The UC Irvine Center for Evidence-Based Corrections' report on the implementation of GPS tracking of sex offenders, and a fascinating study by J.J. Prescott and Jonah E. Rockoff, which finds that notification and registration laws might have a much different effect on reoffending than lawmakers intended.

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