By Lorraine Bailey
It is "unreasonable" and "oppressive" to forbid registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park, a California appeals court ruled.
California voters adopted Proposition 83 (PDF), also known as Jessica's Law, in 2006 to impose strict regulations on registered sex offenders.
One provision in particular prohibits sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of any school or park.
In 2010, the California Supreme Court ruled that the housing restriction applies to all paroled sex offenders, regardless of when they committed their crime, but the court said it did not have enough evidence to rule on law's constitutionality.
Following this ruling, [name 1 withheld], [name 2 withheld], [name 3 withheld] and [name 4 withheld], all registered sex offenders living in San Diego County, challenged the residency restriction in Superior Court.
All four parolees were unable to find housing after their release: [name 1 withheld] and [name 3 withheld] lived in an alley behind the parole office on the advice of their parole agents, [name 4 withheld] lived in the San Diego riverbed with other registered sex offenders who had no place to live, and [name 2 withheld] lived in his van.
In 2011, Judge Michael Wellington held an eight-day evidentiary hearing in which experts testified that 24.5 percent of San Diego residential properties comply with the Jessica's Law residency requirement, but most of these dwellings are single-family homes. Less than 3 percent of multifamily housing meets the requirement.
Wellington subsequently ruled that the parole condition was "unconstitutionally 'unreasonable'" because it "violated petitioners' right to intrastate travel, their right to establish a home and their right to privacy and was not narrowly drawn and specifically tailored to the individual circumstances of each sex offender parolee."
California's Fourth Appellate District affirmed Tuesday, finding that the law's "blanket enforcement as a parole condition in San Diego County has been unreasonable and constitutes arbitrary and oppressive official action."
San Diego's housing market for registered sex offenders is "grim," according to the ruling.
"Given the county's low vacancy rate, the petitioners' general inability to pay more than $850 to $1,000 per month for rent, and the unwillingness of many landlords to rent to petitioners with their criminal histories, significantly less than three percent of the county's multifamily residences are realistically available to registered sex offender parolees in the county," Justice Patricia Benke wrote for a three-member panel. "There are so few legal housing options in urban areas in the county that many offenders face the choice of living in rural areas or becoming homeless."
The panel also noted how the residency restriction limits parolees' access to rehabilitative and medical treatment services, which "are generally located in the densely populated areas of the county."
"Relegated to rural areas of the county, petitioners are cut off from access to employment, public transportation and medical care," Benke wrote.
"We find the blanket residency restriction, as applied in San Diego County, excessive and unduly broad in relation to its purpose - namely, to establish predator free zones around schools and parks where children gather," she concluded. "The statute limits the housing choices of all sex offenders identically, without regard to the type of victim or the risk of reoffending."