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Church State Issues

Jessica’s Law sex offender buffer zone struck down

Mar 3, 2015

San Francisco Chronicle

When you hear the term "sex offender" you often think of a rapists who force people to have sex at gun or knife point. But that's not true, a victimless crime can make you a sex offender.

In Arizona you are a sex offender if you get caught taking a leak in an alley after the bars close. A friend did and he coped a plea to a lessor crime to avoid being labeled as a sex offender for the rest of his life. I think the same is true in California.

In Arizona an 18 year old high school kid who has consensual sex with his 17 year old girl friend is also a sex offender.

Both of these people have to register as sex offender in Arizona.


Jessica’s Law sex offender buffer zone struck down

By Bob Egelko

Updated 9:07 pm, Monday, March 2, 2015

Justice Marvin Baxter, a conservative who retired in January, wrote the state Supreme Court decision striking down residency restrictions on sex offenders.

A voter-approved California law that prohibits registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park violates offenders’ rights — and fails to protect the public — in an urban county where most available housing and services are in the restricted zone, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The unanimous ruling immediately affects only San Diego County but will almost certainly apply to other densely populated counties, including San Francisco.

The court said, however, that state prison officials could impose tougher residency restrictions case by case on individual ex-offenders who are on parole, depending on their circumstances and the dangers they might pose to children.

Prison officials say there are nearly 84,000 formerly imprisoned sex offenders in California who are required to register with police each year for life, and whose addresses appear on a publicly available database. Of those, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said, 8,329 are on parole, a status that authorizes the state to enforce the residency restrictions. The court declined to decide Monday whether those restrictions also apply to the large majority of ex-offenders who are no longer on parole, an issue that could arise in a future case.

Parole application

Until then, “most people are interpreting the current requirement as applying only to those on parole,” said Tom Tobin, a psychologist in Orinda who is a member of the California Sex Offender Management Board.

The 2,000-foot buffer was a central provision of Proposition 83, also known as Jessica’s Law, approved by 70 percent of the voters in November 2006. It increased sentences for sex crimes and imposed new restrictions on offenders after their release from prison.

Parolees and their advocates have complained that the 2,000-foot residency restriction excludes ex-offenders from housing in most urban areas, where they would have access to jobs and rehabilitative services, and forces them into the streets. In San Francisco, where virtually all housing is within 2,000 feet of a park or a school, a report in 2010 found that more than 80 percent of paroled sex offenders were homeless.

In the San Diego case, the court said a researcher found that less than 3 percent of multifamily housing in the county was legally available for convicted sex offenders. Of the four ex-convicts whose cases were before the court, three had been homeless and one lived in a van. It’s harder for parole officers to keep track of homeless people than those with known addresses, the court said.

Enforcement of the residency restriction “has imposed harsh and severe restrictions and disabilities on the affected parolees’ liberty and privacy rights, however limited, while producing conditions that hamper, rather than foster, efforts to monitor, supervise and rehabilitate those persons,” Justice Marvin Baxter said in the court’s ruling. The blanket restriction therefore bears no rational connection to the law’s “legitimate goal of protecting children from sexual predators,” he said.

Fact-finding not required

In a separate case Monday, also written by Baxter, the court ruled 5-2 that the residency restrictions do not amount to criminal punishment and therefore do not require fact-finding by a jury, but can be imposed by the trial judge. The impact of that ruling would be lessened, however, if the restrictions are overturned in much of the state.

Baxter retired from the court in January but continues to work on cases in which he participated before his retirement. Michael Risher, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney, said the ruling is particularly welcome from a justice with a conservative record.

“The court has recognized that laws like this, enacted through the blunt instrument of the initiative process largely based on assumption and fear rather than facts, whatever their good intentions, will sometimes harm public safety,” Risher said.

Attorney Ernest Galvan, who unsuccessfully challenged the restrictions statewide in a 2010 case, said the ruling could also apply to rural areas. While rural counties may have more areas that fall outside a 2,000-foot buffer zone than their urban counterparts, he said, they also have less housing.

“I think it’s the constitutional death knell for residency restrictions,” Galvan said.

One of Prop. 83’s authors criticized the ruling.

The decision “could allow a child molester to live across the street from a school or park where children gather,” said George Runner, a former Republican state senator who is now vice chairman of the state Board of Equalization. “It puts San Diego families at risk and sets a dangerous precedent for the rest of the state.”

Permission at schools, parks

The ruling does not affect other state laws that require paroled sex offenders to get official permission before entering a school and require convicted child molesters to get their parole officer’s permission before entering a park where children regularly gather.

The case is Taylor on Habeas Corpus, S206143. The ruling can be viewed here: www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/S206143.PDF.

Bob Egelko is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.

E-mail: begelko@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @egelko