December 13, 2007

California Supreme Court to hear Jessica's Law challenge

In the wake of recent court rulings overturning residency restrictions for sex offenders in Georgia and in one Florida city, the California Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to review the contentious topic as well.

I've blogged previously about this case, in which four registered sex offenders argue that it is irrational and illegal to apply residency restrictions to ex-convicts like themselves, whose sex crimes did not involve children. Three were convicted of rape and the fourth was convicted of indecent exposure.

Jessica's Law makes most urban areas off limits to sex offenders paroled from prison since the law's enactment on Nov. 7, 2006. Opponents say this is forcing ex-offenders to abandon their homes and families, and to choose between prison and homelessness.

In response to the law, about half of those covered by it have declared themselves transients, claiming either that they are homeless or that they change residences frequently. Although self-identified transients must report to their parole officers each day, it becomes harder to monitor them and to provide them with necessary treatment.

"We could potentially be making the world more dangerous rather than less dangerous," said Gerry Blasingame, a therapist and former chair of the California Coalition on Sexual Offending.

Because of the potential danger in encouraging sex offenders to disappear, prosecutors in Iowa have been lobbying for the repeal of that state's similar residency restrictions law. "Most legislators know in their hearts that the law is no good and a waste of time, but they’re afraid of the politics of it," said a spokesman for the Iowa prosecutors' association.

"It defies common sense to argue that public safety is somehow served by forcing sex offender registrants into homelessness - to sleep in cars, in parks, near schools and on the streets - disconnected from their support networks," said Ernest Galvan, a lawyer for the four men contesting the California law, in recently filed court papers.

The San Francisco Chronicle has more coverage of the case (titled E.J. on Habeas Corpus, S156933) here. More on the problem of sex offenders declaring transiency is here. The Sentencing Law & Policy blog has additional coverage and links here.