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September 13, 2011

Is it constitutional to ban sex offenders from public libraries?

The (challenging?) legal question in the title of this post is prompted by this local story out of Tennessee, which is headlined "Knox bans registered sex offenders from county libraries."  Here are the details:

People listed on the Tennessee Sex Offender Registry are banned from visiting county libraries under an executive order issued Monday by Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett.

He said they can still use the county library system's online services and have a proxy check out and return materials on their behalf. But, they face arrest if caught inside the buildings.  "I just don't want them anywhere around our kids," Burchett said.  "The ultimate decision is how we pursue it.  I want to get out in front of this. There's no need to toil around with it.  I don't want them anywhere around our kids."

The administration said the library system, which has 19 locations, is the first of the state's big four metropolitan library systems to put such a policy in place.  The county, Burchett said, is taking advantage of a state law that went into effect July 1 that gives public library directors the authority "to reasonably restrict the access of any person listed on the sexual offender registry."

Officials will compare a list of registered offenders to its 150,000 active cardholders and then mail them notices, advising them of the change.  State law says that a sex offender who enters a library five days after the notice is mailed can be prosecuted for criminal trespass.  In addition, the county also will post notices on the entrances to all its public library buildings.

Listed offenders on the state's registry include those convicted of sex crimes against children, rape, statutory rape, attempted rape, sexual battery, criminal attempt to commit statutory rape and solicitation to commit aggravated prostitution.  "People will say they've paid their debts to society, but they've given some of those kids a life sentence," Burchett said.  "(Some of the) kids have been abused and they carry it with them for the rest of their lives.  And I don't want to give (the offenders) a chance to be anywhere near them again."

Knox County Sheriff Jimmy "J.J." Jones agreed, saying he was pleased with the new policy. "I applaud the state of Tennessee for putting tougher regulations on these dirt bags who prey on our children," he said.   Officials say they can't recall an incident at the library that involved a sex offender, but communications manager Michael Grider said the Knoxville Police Department is investigating a complaint made roughly a month to six weeks ago....

Sixth Judicial District Public Defender Mark Stephens said Monday he doesn't question the county's purpose of ensuring public safety, but he questioned whether the move was constitutional.  "A regulation like this proposes too broad a ban to include people who impose no threat to library goers," he said.  "A ban like this would have to be so narrowly tailored to avoid infringing on the rights of those people who don't present a risk, and the Knox County proposed ban doesn't meet that test."

Stephens said a New Mexico district court recently ruled that a similar ban in Albuquerque was unconstitutional.  Additionally, he said courts have held that public libraries are limited public forums, which means the First Amendment protects peoples' rights to use them.

When asked whether the county's plan unfairly punished those whose crimes were not child-related, Burchett said:  "Sometimes people plead down to lesser offenses.  My main concern is protecting innocent people, and all we're doing is enforcing state law and going after it very aggressively.  I don't know how you'd differentiate.  The state can work that out."

September 13, 2011 at 07:32 PM | Permalink


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Is it constitutional to ban sex offenders from public libraries?

I should think that any SO on probation or parole would have "conditions" that have to be met while on paper. One of those conditions could be that the probationer/parolee not be allowed to use the public library while they are on paper.

However, to make a law that prohibits a person who has completed his assigned and or completed sentence, to be excluded from a PUBLIC facility is nothing more that unlawful (i.e. Unconstitutional)!

Politician's LOVE to through the fear card to his/her constituents. But the fact of the matter is recidivism among convicted sex offenders is very low.

Maybe we should keep the politician's from conducting lawmaking or governing sessions because they may LIE during the course of business. I suspect LYING happens a lot more often than a sex offender repeats his/her crime.

Is it constitutional to ban sex offenders from public libraries....Hell No It's Not Constitutional. Not for those who's sentence is finished!!!!!

Posted by: book38 | Sep 13, 2011 10:13:08 PM

The specific ban in question is obviously not narrowly-tailored and therefore unconstitutional.

But the deeper issue is raised by book38. The whole concept of such a registry may be unconstitutional or illegal. Once the people on it have completed probation, what does the list represent? It contains so many different types of people.

First, the registerable offenses include a wide spectrum of crimes, many of which people would probably think did not warrant being on the list. For example, high school seniors in various states have been placed on the list for life for having sex with freshmen or sophomores.

Second, we all know that there is no great value placed on accuracy in the specific crimes charged or pled to in our system (nor perhaps should there be). Al Capone went down for tax fraud, etc.

Here, pleading to a crime that will result in registration is often traded for prison time. For example, a defendant might plead to a registerable offense plus no prison time or, alternatively, to a non-registerable offense plus one year. The same sort of thing is done in Califonia with strikes: two years plus a strike or five years and no strike.

So what percentage of people on the list have actually committed a sex crime at all? In what percentage of cases was the alleged sex crime initially nothing more than a flimsy tacked-on charge that later took center-stage in a plea deal? What percentage of people on the list have actually committed a crime against children? What percentage have committed a sex crime that is morally reprehensible in the way that the list is commonly understood to represent?

In practice, the list is one more piece of leverage that has been placed in the hands of prosecutors. Who is actually on the list means very little except that as a general rule it is probably true that, all else being equal, those on the list spent less time behind bars than those who are not on the list and committed the same offense. If anything, that makes them less dangerous.

Posted by: James | Sep 13, 2011 11:12:43 PM

personaly i think each and every one of those individuals who get this ILLEGAL notice have every legal and moral right to swarm the mayor's off and the sheriff's off and beat both of these HATE FILLED nazi idiots within an inch of their lives!

this law like most covering sex offenders in the last 10 years is COMPLETLEY ILLEGAL ON IT'S FACE based on the 2002 U.S SURPEME court decison!

Posted by: rodsmith | Sep 14, 2011 1:36:42 AM

"...the state can work that out."

Unusual for this aussie defence lawyer to hear such a comment from an american in a matter where the default position appears to be a blanket denial of what I'd assume was a 'right'. I'm seeing libraries in the news a bit recently over here, now see same in US. Is there something big going on that we don't know about?

Posted by: Marko | Sep 14, 2011 3:00:26 AM


Of course the mayor could avoid the controversy by implementing Swift's "Modest Proposal", retroactively for those under 18.

What if the card holder is a registered "SO" and wants to read a reference book on self help for minor sex offenders ?

Posted by: Jim Brady | Sep 14, 2011 9:15:24 AM

Wow, Knox County must have a big problem with kids getting raped in the library. Luckily we have no such problem here.

Posted by: Joseph | Sep 14, 2011 8:20:52 PM

OMG rodsmith! Wouldn't civil disobedience be better than committing a crime?

Every SO in Tennessee should all go their local public library on the same day, and than call the media before calling their local sheriff.

Posted by: Huh? | Sep 14, 2011 11:13:47 PM

sorry but last time i looked CONTEMPT OF COURT is also a crime. Which has been being comitted since 2002 by every one of these hate filled politicians when they pass these laws that are specifically prohibited by the wording in the 2002 u.s. supreme court decison!

sorry criminals get hurt when caught in the comission of crimes! no matter what custome they have on!

sorry in my book if the court tells you what your doing is LEGAL BECASUE your NOT DOING X.Y,Z and you immediatley after walking OUT of the court for EVERYONE to NOW START DOING X.Y.Z. your both a criminal and in the case of a politican who has sworn an oath to UPHOLD said CONSTUTION a TRAITOR! liable for the the punishment called for in that SAME DOCUMENT for TREASON IN WARTIME....DEATH!

Posted by: rodsmith | Sep 15, 2011 1:38:15 AM

and what do those same politicans have no trouble telling everyone else!

"if you can't do the TIME don't do the CRIME!"

so sorry they get no sympathy from me.

and considering that one of the TWO STATES who started this ILLEGAL mess has now went back and OVERRULED the u.s. supreme court and stated that as far as they are concerned in THEIR STATE it has in fact and in LAW become a RETROACTIVE PUNISHMENT and ILLEGAL when applied AFTER THE FACT!

i think this whole mess would NEVER have occured if back in the 1990's the first few people and their families and friends had when the new illegal law was ordered if they had simply showed up at the court and burned down the build and hung the traitor who had issued the order...it would have ENDED RIGHT THERE!

That state i'm talking about is ALASKA one of the two ORIGINAL states to create the online registry and registration in the 2002 decision

Posted by: rodsmith | Sep 15, 2011 1:43:55 AM

i also find it very very very telling that the Alaska State Govt like every other of a dozen state's that have had their STATE SUPREME COURT overrule and toss their ILLEGAL sex crimes laws. REFUSE TO APPEAL TO THE U.S. SUPRMEME COURT!

kind of makes me wonder what they know they REFUSE to tell the rest of us!

Maybe that the laws are in FACT ILLEGAL and they KNOW IT!

Posted by: rodsmith | Sep 15, 2011 1:48:42 AM

i also find it very very very telling that the Alaska State Govt like every other of a dozen state's that have had their STATE SUPREME COURT overrule and toss their ILLEGAL sex crimes laws. REFUSE TO APPEAL TO THE U.S. SUPRMEME COURT!

What good would appealing the ruling of the State Supreme Court do? The Alaska Supreme Court ruled that it was a violation of Alaska's constitution.

Posted by: Huh? | Sep 15, 2011 9:46:05 PM

well huh? usually when the state is getting it's tail kicked in the courts up to and including thier own state supreme court....most if they KNOW they are right will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court! It's how the registry ended up in front of them in the first place in 2002!

but now we have a good number of state supeme courts who have tossed all or part of any number of sex offenders laws and the state's have REFUSED to appeal above it! i think 3 have been trying for at least TWO YEARS to REWRITE their own state constutions to make what their state supeme court said was ILLEGAL to now be LEGAL when done JUST TO SEX OFFENDERS!

so like i said sounds like they know something they REFUSE TO TELL THE REST OF US! The damn laws are illgal and the govt KNOWS IT!

Posted by: rodsmith | Sep 16, 2011 5:50:29 PM

As a former individual who has called East and Middle Tennessee home for most of his life before finally moving out of state, I want to say that this policy that Knoxville County Libraries has adopted with respect to former sex offenders makes me ashamed to call myself a Tennesseean. I want to be pround of my former home state, and, in the past, I have been when it showed the courage to stand up to Dixiecrat segregationists by having most of its elected Congressional and Senatorial delegates vote in favor of civil rights legislation for all races. That took a lot of courage for Tennessee's elected officials of both parties back in the forties through the sixties to support civil rights in the face of death threats and other reprisals by die-hard racists. But they stood up for what was right, and most of them got re-elected by substantial margins despite their going out on a limb to do what was right.

This sex offender restriction policy for library use has the same smelly oder of the old Jim Crow and Hitler/Stalinist anti-Semetic laws.

Aside from its resemblance to racist repugnance, this law could actually endanger public safety by causing some sex offenders attempting to use the library to fly into an extreme rage and to vent their frustrations with Burchett's law by threatening law enforcement officers and library staff and patrons. The law may even embolden some former sex offenders to band together politically the way black civil rights activists and radicals did with their protests against lunch counter segregation, etc.

Surely, Knoxville does not want to tarnish its good image among the international human rights committee and see a repeat of the protests, clashes, and arrests of civil rights protesters that plagued the city between 1945 and 1965. Knox County Mayor Burchette is either oblivious to this or he is an out-an-out Dixiecrat himself.

Posted by: William R. Delzell | Sep 25, 2011 6:08:13 PM

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