By Kelly Davis
Today, more than two years after declining to rule on a law restricting where paroled sex offenders can live, the California Supreme Court agreed to again hear the case.
Passed by voters in November 2006, Jessica's Law includes a provision that bars parolees who've committed a sexual offense from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park. A challenge over the residency restriction's constitutionality and to whom the Jessica's Law applies made its way up to the Supreme Court in 2010. The court declined to rule on the residency restriction portion of the law, instead asking local courts to conduct evidentiary hearings.
Those hearings took place in San Diego in January 2011, where an attorney argued that the restrictions were vague and overly broad and left offenders with few housing options. A crime analyst for the D.A.'s office, for instance, testified that less than a quarter of all residential parcels in San Diego County are in compliant areas, while only 2.9 percent of multi-family parcels—apartments, mobile-home parks—comply with the law. As a result of the lack of affordable housing options, homelessness among sex offenders statewide skyrocketed—by 5,700 percent between 2007 and August 2011.
In February 2011, Superior Court Judge Michael Wellington ruled that the residency restrictions were indeed unconstitutional; the state appealed. Last September, an appeals court sided with Wellington (PDF), noting that the blanket application of residency restrictions "constitutes arbitrary and oppressive official action" and "imposes a substantially more burdensome infringement on constitutional rights than is necessary to protect children from sex crimes." As it was before Jessica's Law, the court's ruling said, there's nothing preventing parole officers from applying a residency restriction as an individual condition of parole.
In late October, the state Attorney General's office appealed that ruling, kicking the case up to the Supreme Court.