State Supreme Court To Homeless Sex Offenders: Tough Luck, For Now

Categories: Law & Order
Same old, same old...
The California Supreme Court dealt a smackdown to the state's sex offenders today, ruling it is constitutional to enforce the residency restrictions of Jessica's Law on sex offenders released on parole. The law passed by voters in November 2006 states sex offenders can't have a home address within 2,000 feet of a park or school -- forcing virtually all sex offenders paroled to San Francisco into enforced homelessness.

Yet the court also provided a window of hope for the transients, passing the buck to the trial courts to decide whether Jessica's Law is unreasonable, vague, overly broad, or unconstitutional for individual parolees within their jurisdictions. One of the four sex offenders who lodged the challenge to the law is paroled to San Francisco. The court extended the stay for the four petitioners, meaning the residency restrictions cannot be applied to them.

"Certainly they have grave doubts about the constitutionality of the law from a basic rights point of view," the petitioners' attorney Ernest Galvan told the Weekly. "We're prepared to show it's forced homelessness. Once [the local court] has those facts, they can grapple with the constitutional arguments." 

A December SF Weekly story outlined how the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's enforcement of the law has pushed even sex offenders whose crimes happened decades ago and had nothing to do with children onto the streets, homeless shelter drop-in centers, RVs, and vans. The aforementioned four offenders challenged the law, arguing it was unconstitutionally vague and being applied retroactively.  

The court didn't agree the enforcement was retroactive. In the majority opinion, Justice Marvin Baxter stated the residency restrictions are only enforced on sex offenders who were paroled and took up non-compliant housing after the law's passage. Read the opinion here.

CDCR spokesman Gordon Hinkle says that parole agents will continue to enforce the law as they have on parolees, unless they get a court order to do otherwise.

"Overall we're pleased the court upheld the will of the voters in the state of California," Hinkle told SF Weekly. "We definitely are going to continue to apply it with the intent of what the law was supposed to do." 

Justice Carlos Moreno rejected that interpretation as "fiction" in the dissenting opinion, arguing that the law should only apply to sex offenders who were convicted of a sex crime after the passage of the law. He said that nothing in the ballot initiative's language indicates that the day that a sex offender is paroled is the triggering event for application of the residency restrictions.

Moreno also argued that since the residency restrictions were sold to voters as creating "predator-free zones" for areas where children learn and play, applying the rules to sex offenders whose crimes had nothing to do with kids only wastes law enforcement resources.

Galvan, the attorney, says he's prepared to argue the law's alleged unconstitutionality in the local courts. "We'll prove it's crazy wherever we have to."

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