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Sentencing / Post-Conviction

California courts nix local laws on movements of sex offenders

Posted Apr 25, 2014 2:46 PM CDT
By Terry Carter

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The California Supreme Court on Wednesday declined to hear a case challenging local ordinances banning sex offenders from certain public areas, leaving intact lower court rulings that only state law applies, the Sacramento Bee reports.

In recent years, approximately 70 cities and five counties in California have enacted measures banning sex offenders from such as public parks and other public areas where children might congregate. The supreme court’s decision leaving intact lower court decisions to strike such broad bans means the 2006 voter initiative known as Jessica’s Law will primarily govern such matters.

That law, which survived court challenges, prohibits sex offenders on parole from living within 2,000 feet of schools and parks. It likely now will be the only such restriction.

“If I read the tea leaves correctly, it’s probably dead everywhere in California,” says Susan Kang, chief of staff to Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. That office was a leader in developing restrictions on convicted sex offenders and advising communities on enacting them.

The case declined by the supreme court was from Orange County, concerning a registered sex offender who went to a public tennis court in Irvine and pleaded guilty to violating a local ordinance.

A public defender appealed the conviction, however, arguing that state law governs such matters. The 4th District Court of Appeal (PDF) agreed.

The state supreme court also declined to hear a similar challenge in a case in which a sex offender was charged with illegally going to a picnic in a county park.

“It means that our people on the registry—we have over 105,000 now—can go to public and private places that they could not go before,” says Janice Bellucci, a Santa Maria lawyer and president of California Reform Sex Offender Laws, which seeks expanded rights for convicted sex offenders.

Last month, Bellucci filed suit in federal court in Sacramento challenging a South Lake Tahoe ordinance barring sex offenders from being within 300 feet of schools, parks and other areas where children might gather.

South Lake Tahoe City Attorney Thomas Watson said the enforcement has ceased because of legal challenges and that the supreme court’s recent action might mean the City Council will have to rescind the ordinance.

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