State Supreme Court Says Housing Limit for Sex Offenders Is Unconstitutional

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

The grand experiment is over and the California judiciary has concluded that a law designed to keep convicted sex offenders away from children effectively drives them away from everybody, compels them to break the law or makes them homeless.

The constitution frowns upon treating people that badly, and so the California Supreme Court unanimously invalidated the portion of the 2006 Jessica’s Law that applied a 2,000-foot restriction on sex offenders living near any school or children’s park. The law is most effectively applied to parolees by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

The law “bears no rational relationship to advancing the state’s legitimate goal of protecting children from sexual predators and has violated their basic constitutional right to be free of unreasonable, arbitrary, and oppressive action,” Justice Marvin R. Baxter wrote for the court (pdf).

The court did not forbid having housing restrictions for specific offenders, but ruled that a blanket restriction like Jessica’s Law, officially known as Proposition 83, could not be applied. The ruling was in response to a habeas corpus action brought by a group of paroled sex offenders living in San Diego County, where its application had a rather telling effect.

An analyst for the San Diego County District Attorney’s office found that since sexual predators fresh from prison rarely live in single-family homes, the actual housing available to them amounted to just 2.9% of the multi-family residences in the locale. High rents, low vacancy rates and skeptical landlords further limited the availability of housing.

The ruling technically applies just to San Diego County, but legal observers said its practical effect would be statewide. The state has around 75,000 registered sex offenders and more than 6,000 are out on parole, according to the annual report (pdf) from the California Sex Offender Management Board. The report noted that the board has repeatedly criticized “the promulgation of conditions which actually create homelessness and transience among registered sex offenders while producing no discernible benefit to community safety.”

The high court upheld a unanimous decision by the Fourth District Court of Appeal in September 2012 that the blanket prohibition had to end. It also agreed with that court’s finding that the restrictions limited parolee access to rehabilitative and medical treatment services, which are usually found in densely populated areas that are off-limits to them. “Relegated to rural areas of the county, petitioners are cut off from access to employment, public transportation and medical care,” Justice Benke wrote.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:    

Sex-Offender Housing Limits in CA Overturned (by William Dotinga, Courthouse News Service)

Housing Restrictions for Sex Offenders Unconstitutional, California Court Rules (by Lydia O'Connor,  Huffington Post)

California Court Says State Can't Ban All Sex Offenders from Living Near Schools and Parks (by Josh Richman, San Jose Mercury News)

Sex Offender Restrictions Unconstitutional, State High Court Says (by Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle)

California Supreme Court Rejects Blanket Ban on Where Sex Offenders Can Live (by Maura Dolan, Los Angeles Times)

Court Blocks Virtual Residency Ban on Paroled Sex Offenders (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

In re William Taylor et al. (California Supreme Court) (pdf)

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