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March 27, 2015

Prodded by state court ruling, California announces it will not enforce sex offender residency restrictions

The potential import and impact of state court litigation over collateral consequences is on full display now in California as a result of the news reported in this Los Angeles Times article:

California officials announced Thursday that the state would stop enforcing a key provision of a voter-approved law that prohibits all registered sex offenders from living near schools. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said it would no longer impose the blanket restrictions outlined in Jessica's Law that forbids all sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park, regardless of whether their crimes involved children.

High-risk sex offenders and those whose crimes involved children under 14 will still be prohibited from living within a half-mile of a school, the CDCR emphasized. Otherwise, officials will assess each parolee based on factors relating to their individual cases, the agency said. The shift comes nine years after California voters approved the controversial law, which has made it difficult for some sex offenders to find places to live.

The California Supreme Court on March 2 unanimously ruled that Jessica's Law violated the constitutional rights of parolees living in San Diego County who had argued that the limitations made it impossible for them to obtain housing. As a result, advocates said, some parolees were living in places like riverbeds and alleys.

"While the court's ruling is specific to San Diego County, its rationale is not," CDCR spokesman Luis Patino said Thursday. "After reviewing the court's analysis, the state attorney general's office advised CDCR that applying the blanket mandatory residency restrictions of Jessica's Law would be found to be unconstitutional in every county."

The CDCR sent a memo to state parole officials on Wednesday outlining the policy change. The directive said residency restrictions could be established if there was a “nexus to their commitment offense, criminal history and/or future criminality." The memo said officials would soon provide further direction on how to modify conditions for parolees currently already living in the community....

A CDCR report found that the number of homeless sex offenders statewide increased by about 24 times in the three years after Jessica's Law took effect. Parole officers told the court that homeless parolees were more difficult to supervise and posed a greater risk to public safety than those with homes....  The court ultimately determined that the residency restrictions did not advance the goal of protecting children and infringed on parolees' constitutional rights to be free of unreasonable, arbitrary and oppressive government action.

This news reinforces my view that California's Supreme Court ruling in In re Taylor, S206143 (Cal. March 2, 2015) (available here) was especially significant for the future of sex offender residency restrictions.  I am not surprised that California state officials concluded after reading Taylor that it had to modify how it approached Jessica's Law.  The next big question is whether and how courts in other states will respond if and when Taylor is used by advocates to attack other residency restrictions similar to Jessica's Law. 

A few prior recent related posts:

March 27, 2015 at 10:27 AM | Permalink


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Ironically, the ruling is just mandated for those ON PAROLE. There has never been legislation that definitively negated residency restrictions for those OFF parole. Granted, that is just a step away, but a lot of the redneck red-state-ish counties still are enforcing the state-mandated 2000 foot distance for all registrants.

The headline is a bit exagerative for now.

Posted by: Eric Knight | Mar 28, 2015 1:53:00 AM

These residency restriction laws are also stupid as well as wrong. By continuing restrictions on those who have served their time, these laws would provoke a sex offender into wanting to seek revenge against these laws by targeting law enforcement personnel, prosecutors, and possibly crime victims themselves for murder or injury. What incentive does a sex offender have to go straight if a law prevents him or her from living in most neighborhoods (as they have schools inside them). More important, what does a former sex offender have to lose by defying these laws and by endangering police and parole officers. I often wonder if that Miami cluster of former sex offenders who have to live under a freeway bridge may ever get the idea of banding together like the black panthers and other radical self-defense groups did to stage major confrontations with the authorities. We could see some ugly street guerilla fighting. I hope not!

Posted by: william r. delzell | Mar 28, 2015 11:16:27 AM

Gee - it only took the "justus" system 9 years to correct this pandering, stupid and flagrantly unconstitutional law, no matter how many legal "consideration factors", i.e., judicial droppings, were created in an absurd attempt to make it work. Nine years of beating people up and creating useless full employment (make work jobs) for LE.

We are so greatful that the obvious conclusion was finally reached. Even the Supremes couldn't justify it any more.

Posted by: albeed | Mar 29, 2015 4:11:02 PM

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