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November 4, 2009

Is there a "middle ground" on California's sex offender residency restrictions?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this press report on yesterday's argument before the California Supreme Court concerning the state's sex offender residency resrictions.  Here are the details:

The California Supreme Court appeared to be searching for a middle ground Tuesday in a dispute over whether thousands of formerly imprisoned sex offenders must live at least 2,000 feet from parks and schools, a voter-approved restriction that would exclude them from most of the state's urban areas.

A state lawyer argued that Proposition 83, a November 2006 initiative, imposed the residency restriction on all 65,000 registered sex offenders in California and subjected them to prosecution for violations.

An attorney for four paroled offenders, two from the Bay Area, said the restrictions covered, at most, only those who committed sex crimes after Prop. 83 passed — and made little sense even for that group.  "It is not rationally related to the harm the voters were trying to prevent," attorney Ernest Galvan told the court. The law limits only where ex-convicts can live, and doesn't prohibit them from entering parks or school grounds where children would be found, he noted.

Kenneth Mennemeier, lawyer for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, countered that Prop. 83 reflected voters' "desire to protect children from the threat of recidivism that sex offenders pose."  He said it should be interpreted broadly to apply to anyone who has ever been convicted of a sex crime requiring registration.  Those crimes range from indecent exposure to forcible rape.

Justice Marvin Baxter said both sides were "arguing extremes."  The court spent most of the one-hour hearing debating how the initiative affects offenders who were on parole when Prop. 83 passed, those who were paroled afterward, and those who have completed parole supervision but are still subject to the lifetime registration requirement.

The state says about 6,800 registered sex offenders are now on parole.  Nine months after Prop. 83 passed, parole officers began ordering them to leave their homes if they lived less than 2,000 feet from a park or school, and arresting them for parole violations if they stayed.  Under those rules, "San Francisco is one big exclusion zone," Galvan said. Because authorities have refused to let parolees move to other counties, he said, their only choices are homelessness or prison.

Baxter noted, however, that Galvan's four clients had all been paroled before Prop. 83 passed, and would not be subject to the residency restrictions if the court interpreted the measure to cover only post-November 2006 parolees.  That was the most logical interpretation of the measure, said Baxter, generally the court's most conservative justice.

November 4, 2009 at 09:08 AM | Permalink

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Nine months after Prop. 83 passed, parole officers began ordering them to leave their homes if they lived less than 2,000 feet from a park or school, and arresting them for parole violations if they stayed. Under those rules, "San Francisco is one big exclusion zone," Galvan said. Because authorities have refused to let parolees move to other counties, he said, their only choices are homelessness or prison.

How brilliant is that? Make it so that no place in the county is not near a sensitive area, then not let them move else where in California. Why not just extend the sentences? Oh right, because California's budget is shot to hell.

Posted by: . | Nov 4, 2009 10:57:42 AM

...And we wonder why California is a flat failure with respect to crime, punishment, budgeting, etc....

Posted by: Sam Caldwell | Nov 4, 2009 11:55:19 AM

This is just the logical extension illustrating the real reason behind the registration regime. It's never been about safety; rather, it's always been "how can we get them again?" When society is able criminalize the very status of an ex sex offender, society can then lock them up again, all nice and legal-like. "You can't live here and you can't move." How likely is a person in such a situation to run afoul of some sort of ordinance or statute? But then, you see, they can then be put in a cage for that status while giving lip service to due process.

Posted by: Mark # 1 | Nov 4, 2009 2:39:12 PM

Once again, the court asked for statistics and did not get any. Justice Brown, before appointment to the Court of Appeal, also wrote that the court repeatedly asked for statistics but never got any. It's as if the court knows there is fear mongering and exaggeration but the lawyers are afraid to give them the evidence they need. It is understandable why the government would not supply its own statistics, which largely refutes the fear mongering, but why do other lawyers fail to do it?

Hey, lawyers, don't be so lazy. Others have done all the work for you.

New Scientist reports low sex offender recidivism.

Posted by: George | Nov 4, 2009 6:44:25 PM

People, people, people. If anyone desires to time travel, there's no need. We have our own Salem Witch Trials and McCarthy era right here. In the above article Kenneth Mennemeier, lawyer for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, states that Prop. 83 reflected voters' "desire to protect children from the threat of recidivism that sex offenders pose." Voters are grossly uninformed, so it is a little difficult to trust the validity of their "desires."
It is bad enough that Gov. Schwarzenegger proliferated the characterization of sex offenders as those who "repeat their crime over and over again." But Mennemeier is a lawyer for a state department whose title bears not only the word "corrections" but also "rehabilitation." So you would think he would know that the recidivism rate for sex offenders, per the Federal Justice Department's own website, is 3 %. Furthermore, the above laws, proposed and passed, are intended for a broad category of criminal we like to call "sex offender." This includes violent AND non-violent offenders. It includes men who raped women and children and men who looked at nude photographs of fully developed 13-18-year olds, a small percentage of whom have posted their own photos online. THESE TWO CATEGORIES OF MEN ARE NOT THE SAME. There is not one empirical, definitive study that links the viewing of online images to direct action by adults on minors. Viewing is a non-violent crime of inaction. There is no evidence that this crime leads to action.

Moreover, read the Department of Justice website - oh yes, sex offenders do commit crimes again - NON SEX RELATED CRIMES. Gee, do you think this might have the teensiest, weensiest connection to not being able to live and work in a REHABILITATIVE, socially normal environment??

Posted by: Claire | Nov 16, 2009 1:10:18 PM

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