California Supreme Court Rules Against Sex Offender Law Restrictions
Cases originated in San Diego County and only applies here
This is KPBS midday edition, I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. The provision in Jessica's law which prohibits sex offender parolees from living within 2000 piece of a school or park has been struck down in San Diego by the California Supreme Court. And it's likely the decision will apply another big cities in California. The court found that part of Jessica's law unconstitutional ruling that the 2000-foot restriction makes it virtually impossible for people convicted of sex crimes to live in urban areas. Otherwise the court left most of the law intact but the severity of some of the other provisions of California sex offender registry laws are bringing calls for reform. 20 me as Alex Simpson, associate director of the California innocence -- is good to see you, thank you for coming in. The case that brought this about this ruling originated in San Diego, tell us about it. ________________________________________ This was a consolidated case. A number of different plaintiffs were petitioners who are interested in challenging the specific restrictions on residency, specifically saying that as parolees and registered sex offenders they were having a hard time finding almost an impossible time finding compliant housing and because of that is was causing an inordinate amount of other concerns up to and including being completely homeless and that because of that they believed it was u nconstitutional. ________________________________________ Now, who does this ruling apply to? I've read a number of different articles and they seem to have conflicting information. Does this apply to all registered sex offenders in San Diego? ________________________________________ It's only specific to parolees and actually currently people currently on parole. So that is California Penal Code 3003.5 and that is the specific statute that deals with people on parole and currently on parole. The court made very specific kind of terminations about that. ________________________________________ This Jessica's law say that just parolees need to be barred within 2000 feet of the school or park or does it say all registered sex offenders should be barred and restricted to that area? ________________________________________ Jessica's law has a lot of different restrictions and provisions in it. This particular portion of it just has to do with the 482 registered sex offenders who are currently on parole in San Diego County. Obviously the court's ruling will likely mean other counties are going to follow suit in the next few years to make sure they are compliant with the spirit of what this court ruling has said. ________________________________________ Alex, you are saying some of the people who brought this case had the only option of becoming homeless because there was no place to go. Where do parolees live in urban San Diego? ________________________________________ That's a great question and I think the court took a lot of research and evidence and consolidated it in this case to show when we are looking at San Diego generally, 97% of housing in San Diego is off-limits to people as a result of Jessica's Law. If you're looking for housing, you can't stay within 2000 feet of a school or a park, all of the remaining housing, that 3% of San Diego available housing, certainly none of it is in downtown San Diego. It is all in the outlying areas of the greater San Diego County. What the court found was that 3% is not even available, not all of that 3% is available to people on this registration. Some of it is just not affordable. Some of it is single-family dwellings and most likely if you are a registered sex offender and have done time in prison, you don't have the means to purchase a single-family home. This is what the court found that what we are talking about is a path not to making sure these registered sex offenders are reintegrating into society as we all wanted to eventually, but this is a path to homelessness and transients and for that reason the court found it was just not workable. ________________________________________ Justice Baxter, the conservative on the California Supreme Court ruled this decision, what did he say about Jessica's Law? ________________________________________ It's interesting that Justice Baxter was the individual who crafted this law because he retired at the end beginning of this year, but also because he is a conservative justice. This is something I think speaks to how much of a concern the Supreme Court had with the particular provisions of this law that this conservative justice wrote this unanimous opinion to explain that what we are really talking about is this is a law that has no rational basis for its existence and that was a finding the court made specifically that you have to have a reason for this law's enactment and the given reason for this law's enactment was to protect children and protect people who are vulnerable.There was no indication the law infected that and every indicated that the law was created additional problems like homelessness or the inability to get psychiatric services or residential treatment f acilities. ________________________________________ You made a comment before that you want to provide the sex offender parolees a place they can live so that the ultimate idea is we all want them to reintegrate into society. A lot of people don't want sex offenders to reintegrate into society, but the court made the point that kind of attitude may be doing more harm than good, explained that. ________________________________________ When we are talking about reintegration after parole were talking about is making sure any parolees whether or not they are a sex offender or not that any parolees stable, in some way productive, not likely to reoffend. When we're talking about reintegration from that perspective, this restriction meant that it was more likely that people are going to reoffend in some way. They are not going to find residential housing. They're not going to be able to qualify for residential treatment facilities. It's going to be particular onerous for them to get psychiatric services or medical care. I don't mean to say that we all want sex offenders to be living next door to us, but the interesting thing the court also found is this portion of the l aw, the practical effect also frustrates the intent of another sex offense law which is Megan's law. Mega's law says you have to put down were you as a sex offender are living in the queue of people who were transient or homeless because of their inability to get housing through Jessica's Law that means they are not on the Megan's law website so that is an interesting interplay. ________________________________________ This ruling still allows the 2000 feet restriction to be placed on some sex offender parolees? ________________________________________ I think what the court said is you have to evaluate each case on a case-by-case basis and that was what was going on before the enactment of Jessica's Law. It is just this blanket restriction, the practical effect and the practical aspect of it is there is no upside to it in terms of studies that show this protects children and there is a lot of downside to it and that is why the court struck it down. ________________________________________ Are you among those who believe this ruling make eventually change housing restrictions for sex offender parolees across the state? ________________________________________ There is nothing unique in this aspect about San Diego. Obviously San Diego is unique and in other aspects but nothing unique about how this law restricts access to residents for people who were under registered sex offenses. Obviously there are a lot of other cities that are similarly situated and will have these very same problems with regards to their population. San Francisco, Los Angeles, any large incorporated cities you've got this problem for there are a lot of people who are registered sex offenders who can't find housing and I think that's probably what's going to happen for the next couple of years. ________________________________________ Let me bring in Kelly Davis, formerly of San Diego city beat to widen out this conversation about California's sex offender laws. Kelly, thank you for joining us. I know that you've written about this whole situation recently, most specifically a move supported by the California sex offender management Board to try to introduce legislation to create a tiered system in the states sex offender registry. How would that work? ________________________________________ As far as I know, the legislation wasn't introduced by the deadline but that doesn't mean it's completely dead. I know there's kind of a rough spot bill that has been written. What it would do is it would create a tiered -- right now California is only one of four states that requires anyone who was committed a sexual offense has to register annually for the rest of their lives.Under this proposal, someone who's committed a low-level offense who poses little to no risk of reoffending, who hasn't committed a new sexual offense within 10 years would be removed from the registry. Moderate risk offenders would be removed from and no longer required to reregister after 20 years and lifetime registration would be reserved only for the most serious offenders. ________________________________________ As you point out Kelly, this reform has been bouncing around supported by the California sex offender management Board, a group of people charged with making sure they know where these sex offenders are. Why hasn't it down any traction in the state assembly? ________________________________________ I talk to folks about this and no one wants to be seen and viewed as being soft on sex offenders. The former state assembly member did introduce legislation twice to create a tiered registry, both of those bills failed that he was in a very liberal district. Otherwise, it's going to take someone willing to step up and be brave and deal with the repercussions to carry this b ill. ________________________________________ Alex Simpson, is part of the problem the way registered sex offender is defined as pretty broad? ________________________________________ I think there was no doubt when you're talking about sex offense registration it does cast a pretty wide net. We want to make sure we protect to the extent we can against as many different kinds of aspects or as many different types or flavors of sex offenders out there. It does have some unintended consequences. You do read about occasionally cases where people are on lifetime sex offense registration for crimes that perhaps they shouldn't be. I think when we're talking about any kind of stepping away from the current laws, as we have been talking about, it is very difficult to get political backing to try to change the course of more restrictive laws and I think that's why the California Supreme Court's decision was so helpful in that respect because they are just looking at the practical effects and what are we practically talking about, not what we are rhetorically talking about in terms of combating sex o ffenders. ________________________________________ As the justices decision pointed out, many of these laws enacted out of a sense of great loss because there has been some terrible outrage committed against the child or so forth, they are not really written very well. ________________________________________ When you're talking about any kind of law that's written after a tragedy, there is a danger that is going to be written in a way that doesn't think about all the aspects of it and that is what this court was doing this decision. Now that we have looked at the effects of this law there is no real reason why should be in place because it doesn't really protect anyone we are trying to protect and that causes a bunch of problems we hadn't anticipated. That's the problem with jumping to a conclusion about a law in trying to enact something after that is particularly d evastating. ________________________________________ Too both of your planes, elected officials in San Diego County expressed their displeasure on the Supreme Court ruling on Jessica's Law. Dianne Jacob called it a travesty and said the issue was about keeping her children stay but again to ask you, Alex, do we know if Jessica's Law actually helps prevent sex offenders from reoffending? ________________________________________ There is no research I'm aware of that indicates residents or restrictions that Jessica's Law has a place have actively prevented or dissuaded a sex offense from occurring and that is what were talking about. Were trying to make sure we can prevent sex offenders from reoffending in this particular way. What it does in the practical aspects is it makes sex offenders violate the law and other unintended ways like for example homelessness were reoffending through drug offenses because of their situation, that sort of thing. ________________________________________ Kelly, I went in this with you and go back to what you wrote about which is in the same line of sort of reforming state sex offender law. Some of the opponents of these changes argue one of the risk evaluations on these sex offenders is wrong and they get into the wrong tier of the system and they are not monitor closely enough. One of the people that you spoke with mentioned John Gardner who killed two teenagers right here in San Diego. You also spoke to someone you edit there interesting response to that argument. What do the supporters of these changes say to that? ________________________________________ They say, John Gardner, and I've heard this from multiple experts who have spent years and years researching sex offender law and the psychology of sexual offending and John Gardner is an outlier, he's an anomaly. No system is perfect. They are not going to mail the risk perfectly for every single person, but it's a research-based system assessing risk. Like Alex said, Megan's Law, the lifetime registration, it has no rational basis for its e xistence. What Alex said about Jessica's Law goes the same per Megan's Law. There is no research that shows require was summoned to register as a sex offender for the rest of their lives makes anyone safer. Not a shred of research. ________________________________________ I want to thank you both. I've been speaking with reporter Kelly Davis and Alex Simpso. Thank you very much.
State corrections officials cannot impose blanket lifetime restrictions on where sex offenders may live, the California Supreme Court ruled Monday in a case challenging a voter-approved measure that prohibits sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park.
The court restricted its decision to San Diego County, where the case originated. But the ruling has potential statewide impact, with lawsuits in other counties likely, said Laurie Levenson, a criminal law professor at Loyola Law School.
"There's every reason to believe in other large urban areas you're going to find similar problems, which is that there is simply no place for these people to go," she said.
The residency restrictions were part of Jessica's Law, which was approved by California voters in 2006.
A spokeswoman for San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said the law has provided the community with greater protection.
"It has made possessing child pornography a felony, it strengthened sexually violent predator definitions and it strengthened laws that punish habitual sex offenders," said spokeswoman Tanya Sierra in an email. "The residency requirement was just one part of the law. We accept the court's decision and will continue to use the tools we have available to protect victims."
The court said the blanket restriction violates the sex offenders' constitutional rights by limiting their access to housing, increasing the incidence of homelessness and depriving them of access to services such as psychological counseling that are available to all parolees. It also made it more difficult for law enforcement officials to monitor sex offenders, the court said.
"Blanket enforcement of the residency restrictions against these parolees has ... infringed their liberty and privacy interests, however limited, while bearing no rational relationship to advancing the state's legitimate goal of protecting children from sexual predators," the court said in its unanimous decision.
The court did not strike down the law itself, saying sex offenders could still be forced to live more than 2,000 feet from schools. But it said the decision would have to be made on a case-by-case basis.
Deborah Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation, said the agency was reviewing the decision.
Supporters say it keeps children safe from sexual predators. But opponents say it forces offenders onto the street or away from their families, creating hardships that make them more likely to reoffend.
The ruling, which upheld an appeals court decision, came in a case brought by four registered sex offenders in San Diego County.
A San Diego County judge ruled in 2011 that the law violated the three men and one woman's right to intrastate travel, to establish a home and maintain their privacy and was not specifically tailored to each of their circumstances.
The lower court found sex offenders were effectively banned from about 97 percent of the multifamily rental housing units in San Diego County. At least some of the remaining housing was also not available to them for reasons including low vacancy rates, high prices and the unwillingness of some landlords to rent to sex offenders.
The court ordered the state department of corrections to stop applying the residency restriction as a blanket provision against all paroled registered sex offenders who were under supervision in San Diego County.
A state appeals court upheld the decision, prompting the state Attorney General's office to appeal to the State Supreme Court.
In a separate ruling on Monday, the California Supreme Court said the residency restrictions on sex offenders did not constitute punishment. The court upheld a law that allows judges to require convicts to register as sex offenders even if a jury has not convicted them of a sex-related crime.