California Supreme Court finds blanket sex offender residential limits unconstitutional

California Supreme Court finds blanket sex offender residential limits unconstitutional

[JURIST] The California Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] unanimously Monday that restrictions on where sex offenders may live violates the parolees’ constitutional rights. This decision addresses Jessica’s Law [Proposition 83, materials], the voter initiative passed in 2006 that banned sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of where children are likely to gather, including schools or parks, regardless of whether the crimes involved children. Petitioners had brought this case because of the lack of available housing compliant with Jessica’s Law in San Diego county, which has led to increased homelessness of paroled registered sex offenders in the area. The homelessness problem has in turn “hampered surveillance and supervision” of the parolees, which increases risk to the public. The court ruled that the blanket application of Jessica’s Law in San Diego county violates parolees’ constitutional right to liberty as the law “bears no rational relationship to advancing the state’s legitimate goal of protecting children from sexual predators.”

A number of changes in the sex-offender registry system have taken place across the country, as sex offender laws have been increasingly criticized [JURIST report] over the past decade for limiting residence options and promoting ostracization. Last month a New York appeals court ruled [JURIST report] that state laws governing residency restrictions take precedence over municipal ordinances. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court [official website] ruled [JURIST report] 5-1 in January 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 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.