New York court rules state sex offender law trumps municipal ordinances

New York court rules state sex offender law trumps municipal ordinances

[JURIST] The New York Court of Appeals [official website] on Tuesday ruled [text, PDF] that state laws governing the residency restrictions for sex offenders take precedence over local municipal ordinances. In People v. Diack, the court ruled unanimously that the state’s regulations are sufficient in prohibiting high-level sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of places where children are likely to gather, such as parks and schools.

[A] local government’s police power is not absolute. When the State has created a comprehensive and detailed regulatory scheme with regard to the subject matter that the local law attempts to regulate, the local interest must yield to that of the State in regulating that field.

Michael Diack was a low-level offender who was no longer on probation under New York state law, but was charged with violating a Nassau County residency restriction when he moved within 500 feet of a school. The court affirmed the position that the growing number of local ordinances are preempted by state laws.

A number of changes in the sex-offender registry system have taken place across the country. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court [official website] ruled [JURIST report] 5-1 last month that the requirement that all sex offenders who were juveniles at the time of their crimes must remain on the Megan’s Law Registry for life is unconstitutional. In September 2014 a divided New Jersey Supreme Court [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that requiring a sex offender to wear a GPS tracking device after he has completed his sentence violates the federal and state constitutions. In June 2013 the US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that the federal government can compel a convicted sex offender to register under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act of 2006 (SORNA) [text; JURIST news archive] even if the offender completed his sentence before SORNA was enacted. In February 2009 a judge in the US District Court for the Eastern District of California [official website] held that the statute violates the Commerce Clause [text] of the US Constitution by making it a federal crime for a sex offender to move to another state while failing to register in a nationwide database. Sex offender laws have been increasingly criticized [JURIST report] for limiting residence options and promoting ostracization.