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September 25, 2009

Alabama litigation over whether and how homeless sex offenders have to register

This article from Alabama, headlined "Alabama's sex offender laws challenged," spotlights some of the legal difficulties surrounding registration requirements for homeless sex offenders.  Here is how the piece starts:

A Montgomery circuit judge has struck down a portion of the state's sex offender law, saying that a provision that requires indigent offenders to provide a verifiable address as a condition of their release is unconstitutional. Advertisement

Several homeless sex offenders sought to have the Class C felonies that they were charged with for not complying with the law dismissed citing that the provision violated their rights. But the state's top attorney said he's ready to take the cases to the highest court he can to protect children from pedophiles.

Under Alabama's Community Notification Act, incarcerated sex offenders must provide law enforcement officials a verifiable address where they will live 45 days prior to their release.

Failure to comply with that provision is a Class C felony, and the sex offender is immediately taken to county jail upon release. The offender could face 15 years to life in prison if convicted because of the state's Habitual Offender Act, according to briefs filed on behalf of the homeless defendants.

Lawyers for the defendants in the cases argued successfully that they were being punished for not complying with a law that was physically impossible to abide by, and that they were essentially being re-imprisoned after they had served their sentences.

Attorney General Troy King said he is appealing the rulings because an "actual address," which the law requires, can be anything from a homeless shelter to a park bench.

September 25, 2009 at 08:05 AM | Permalink


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From what I've seen, in that people coming out of prison who have support of some form are less likely to return to prison this does not seem like an unreasonable condition of release. I have problems with it being a new crime, I see it more as a contempt of some sort.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Sep 25, 2009 9:01:12 AM

If an "actual address" can be a park bench, Soronel, I fail to see how that achieves the public safety goals you suggest.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Sep 25, 2009 10:02:31 AM

The most absolutely Kafka-esque law I have seen in a while. First comment: "who have support of some form"--that is a big assumption. That covers only a small percentage of those released I would guess. Instead, charge the state with finding a place for the released offender to live (not near a school, park, library, etc., by the way), with the wherewithal to live there for a few months until he/she finds work (and how easy will that be?). Happy now, voters and taxpayers, with the ridiculous laws you have demanded? If the offender does not register, well, that is an offense.

Posted by: t | Sep 25, 2009 10:54:26 AM

Is there anything in Smith v. Doe or Connecticut Dept. of Public Safety v. Doe that approves of this?

Posted by: George | Sep 25, 2009 11:24:54 AM

North Carolina's appellate courts recent addressed the homeless sex offender issue. I wrote a little about it here, http://sogweb.sog.unc.edu/blogs/ncclaw/?p=529, if anyone is interested.

Posted by: Jamie Markham | Sep 25, 2009 3:20:53 PM

Obviously, it is preferrable for releasees to have support. The question is, when an offender lacks such support on the outside, can the state simply declare that a criminal offense and detain him or her indefinitely. Without help from the outside or help from the state itself, it is virtually impossible for these offenders to comply with the law. There are few to no homeless shelters that accept sex offenders. Assuming an offender can even access the phone numbers or addresses of apartment complexes or hotels, he or she is more or less reduced to making collect calls or sending letters that say: "Hi, I am a sex offender with no home, no job, no money, no family, and no friends. I'd like to rent a room or apartment in your facility, please." You can imagine how well that turns out.

Posted by: Alabamian | Sep 25, 2009 3:41:24 PM

Two points. First, I agree with Grits and think the AG is flat out wrong. "Actual address" has to mean something different from "address" because if it doesn't then the word is superfluous. I would agree that a park bench is an address, even a van as in the NC case. But I don't think it's an actual address.

Second, that NC case is well, it's incredible. The man has to serve 107 moths more in jail for simply filing a form late. 20 days late to be sure. That's. That's just unspeakably wrong.

How can u justify to yourself living in such a state Jamie?

Posted by: Daniel | Sep 25, 2009 4:49:39 PM

"Posted by: t | Sep 25, 2009 10:54:26 AM

Is there anything in Smith v. Doe or Connecticut Dept. of Public Safety v. Doe that approves of this?"

actually Smith v. Doe specically state's this entire law is ILLEGAL. since it states that registry was legal BECAUSE


"The fact that Alaska posts offender information on the Internet does not alter this conclusion. Second, the Act does not subject respondents to an affirmative disability or restraint. It imposes no physical restraint, and so does not resemble imprisonment, the paradigmatic affirmative disability or restraint. Hudson, 522 U.S., at 104. Moreover, its obligations are less harsh than the sanctions of occupational debarment, which the Court has held to be nonpunitive. See, e.g., ibid. Contrary to the Ninth Circuit’s assertion, the record contains no evidence that the Act has led to substantial occupational or housing disadvantages for former sex offenders that would not have otherwise occurred. Also unavailing is that court’s assertion that the periodic update requirement imposed an affirmative disability. The Act, on its face, does not require these updates to be made in person. The holding that the registration system is parallel to probation or supervised release is rejected because, in contrast to probationers and supervised releasees, offenders subject to the Act are free to move where they wish and to live and work as other citizens, with no supervision."

this part!

"he Act, on its face, does not require these updates to be made in person." and this part "offenders subject to the Act are free to move where they wish and to live and work as other citizens, with no supervision"

would espcially seem to indiciate to ANYONE with a brain that just about every law covering ex sexoffenders in the last 7 years is COMPLETELY ILLEGAL and UNCONSTITUTIONAL!

Posted by: rodsmith | Sep 26, 2009 7:25:44 PM

I'm a registered sex offender in NC. I'm being kicked out of my brothers house because the land lord doesn't want sex offenders living here. I've applied to like 50 rental places and I'm denied because I'm a registered sex offender. I'm confused how I'm suppose to live... I make decent money but I'm going to be forced to live in a box under a bridge. I don't even know if thats legal but I maybe forced... sex offenders can't stay at homeless shelters either

Posted by: Brandon | Feb 24, 2010 12:12:40 AM

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