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The Sex Predator Next Door

The Sex Predator Next Door

In 1996, with the federal enactment of “Megan’s Law”, California began disseminating identifying information about sex offenders on CD-ROM on a monthly basis to all sheriff and police departments throughout the state. This information was made available to the public. Since then, the information available to the public has expanded to include information about individuals who have been convicted of a variety of sex crimes against both adults and children and is available to all via the Internet.

Since Megan’s Law was enacted, public awareness of sex offenders has increased and with that awareness has come more laws and restrictions on individuals convicted of sex crimes. In 2006, California voters enacted Proposition 83, known as “Jessica’s Law”, which placed mandatory residency restrictions on registered sex offenders. While it is certainly in the public’s interest to be protected from violent sexual predators, Jessica’s Law, which placed onerous restrictions on where a sex registrant can live, coupled with the readily available information to the public, created a class of homeless undesirables. The California Supreme Court noted that sex offenders registered as transient nearly tripled from 2,050 in 2007 (just after Jessica’s Law was passed) to 6,012 in 2011.[1]

Recently, the California Supreme Court[2] held that the blanket prohibitions regarding where registered sex offenders can live are unconstitutional. The Supreme Court decision was brought by persons affected who lived in San Diego and while technically the decision applied only to San Diego County, the decision will have wide-ranging effects across the state.

The Supreme Court found not only that the residency restrictions infringe upon the registrant’s basic constitutional rights but also that the “harsh and severe restrictions” on registrant’s residency rights have the perverse effect of making it more difficult to advance the purpose of the goal of protecting children from sexual predators. Registrants who are forced to be homeless or transient because they cannot find suitable housing given the residency restrictions placed upon them are harder to monitor and track down. In effect, this makes it more difficult to enforce the sexual predator laws and places the public at greater risk.

And while sometimes the concern is justified, there has been an alarming rise in incidences of ostracizing individuals who are publically listed as sex offenders. Often parents are certain that the neighbor they find listed as a sex offender is an immediate threat to their children. This is just not always true and the Supreme Court decision addressed this, making residency restrictions particularized to each registrant. The Supreme Court decision gives a brief history of the petitioners who brought the case before the Court:

  • Among the petitioners was a man suffering from multiple illnesses including throat cancer, AIDS and diabetes who could not live with a relative who is a health care professional because that relative resided in an area restricted to him. This petitioner is a registered sex offender because he was convicted of the sexual assault of a woman in Arizona in 1991. Since that conviction, he was never convicted of another sex crime.
  • Another petitioner convicted of only one sex crime is required to register as a result of his 1989 conviction on one misdemeanor count of sexual battery upon an adult woman.
  • Yet another petitioner is required to register because of only one sex offense committed in 1981, when the petitioner was 15 years old.

As these histories demonstrate, some individuals are labeled as sex offender s for crimes that don’t necessarily indicate they are a persistent danger to the public. The Supreme Court’s decision now allows local authorities to apply reasonable residency restrictions as demanded by the particulars of each case.

[1]   People v. Mosley (2015) 60 Cal.4th 1044, 1080

[2]  In re Taylor (2015) 60 Cal.4th 1019