State Supreme Court Upholds Limits on Sex Offender Law

The Earl Warren Building in San Francisco, seat of the California Supreme Court.  (Wikimedia Commons)

California's Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that the state cannot prohibit all registered sex offenders in San Diego County from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park. (Decision embedded below.)

The court said the restriction has greatly restricted sex offenders' access to housing in the county, increasing the incidence of homelessness and depriving them of access to services available to parolees. The court said sex offenders could still be forced to live more than 2,000 feet from schools, but the decision would have to be made on a case-by-case basis.

"Blanket enforcement of the residency restrictions against these parolees has ... infringed their liberty and privacy interests, however limited, while bearing no rational relationship to advancing the state's legitimate goal of protecting children from sexual predators," the court said in a decision written by Associate Justice Marvin Baxter.

The residency restrictions were part of Jessica's Law, which was approved by California voters as Proposition 83 in 2006.

Supporters say it keeps children safe from sexual predators. But opponents say it forces offenders onto the street or away from their families, creating hardships that make them more likely to reoffend.

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A call to a spokesman for the state attorney general's office was not immediately returned.

The ruling, which upheld an appeals court decision, came in a case brought by four registered sex offenders in San Diego County, and it has an effect only there.

A San Diego County judge ruled in 2011 that the law violated the three men and one woman's right to intrastate travel, to establish a home and maintain their privacy, and was not specifically tailored to each of their circumstances. The court ordered the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to stop applying the residency restriction as a blanket provision against all paroled registered sex offenders who were under supervision in San Diego County.

The court said the department could impose residency restrictions "as long as they are based on the specific circumstances of each individual parolee" -- a condition upheld by both the state Court of Appeal and Monday's Supreme Court ruling.

After a state appeals court upheld the decision, the state attorney general's office appealed to the state Supreme Court.