Sunday, July 29, 2007

OH - Sex offender limits: Too far?

View the article here


Laws restrict where 2,400 can live; courts and neighborhoods struggle with consequences

It seems like a common-sense precaution to protect children: Prohibit sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school.
- How is this considered "common-sense?" It's totally without any common-sense!

But that simple premise - which has been law in Ohio since 2003 and Kentucky since 2006 - is quickly degenerating into a legislative free-for-all, fraught with unintended consequences, controversy and constitutional questions.

The Ohio and Kentucky supreme courts are poised this fall to decide if the laws are unconstitutional because they subject offenders to further punishment after they've served their sentences.

Meanwhile, evidence suggests that residency restrictions may be counterproductive, forcing sex offenders underground and lulling parents into a false sense of security. Hamilton County sheriff's deputies, for example, have arrest warrants out for 49 sex offenders who should have registered their addresses - but who have dropped out of sight.

Seven of them simply stopped registering after the city of Cincinnati told them they couldn't live within 1,000 feet of a school.

And there's this: As more areas become off-limits, sex offenders are being concentrated into neighborhoods with few schools and inexpensive housing - neighborhoods like Westwood and Florence, an Enquirer analysis of sex offender registration data shows.

Even if they're not a threat, a concentration of sex offenders is bad news for property values. One study by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that a sex offender moving into a neighborhood can reduce a home's value by $5,500.

"Just knowing they're there has added this extra stress," says Amber Shock, the mother of a 3-year-old daughter in White Oak.

Shock found out via the Internet that two sex offenders are living in a nearby house at Blue Rock and Cheviot roads - which the neighborhood children walk past on their way to a soft-serve ice cream stand.

"People think this isn't a big deal, but it is a big deal. Registered sex offenders will do it again, and maybe next time they'll kill someone," she says. Shock says she realizes that most sex offenses are committed by someone known to the family - "We all watch Oprah" - and that sex offenders have to live somewhere.

"Whether they live next to a park or a school or whatever, they're going to be with us. They've done their time and they're out," she says. "But when you become a mom, things totally change.

"You look at the world so different. Maybe they should all go to a mental hospital."


Restrictions on where sex offenders can live have been proliferating nationally since the 1990s.

Ohio and Kentucky require all sex offenders - as determined by a judge at a sentencing hearing - to register their address with the sheriff of the county in which they will live, as often as every 30 days. Registrations, with photographs, are available on Web sites maintained by the Ohio Attorney General's Office and Kentucky State Police.

In Ohio, sheriffs must then notify neighbors when the most serious classes of sex offenders - sex predators and some repeat offenders - move in next door. Kentucky has no such requirement. Both states also say where sex offenders can live, typically barring them from within 1,000 feet of any school and some day-care centers. Kentucky has added playgrounds to the list.

The Cincinnati City Council approved further restrictions this year. Now, sex offenders also are prohibited from living within 1,000 feet of any recreation center, or any boys or girls club.

The effect: At least 60 percent of Cincinnati's housing units are off-limits to sex offenders, according to a study by the Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission.

Cincinnati is by far the most aggressive jurisdiction in enforcing residency restrictions, filing 167 of the 198 lawsuits aimed at evicting offenders in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court since 2006.

The law can be frustrating to enforce.


Drew said...

There are challenges to these laws based on violation of the following clauses in the Constitution: double jeopardy, ex post facto, due process, and equal protection. There is also a challenge that the registry violates the right to privacy. Some other rights that these laws probably infringe are the right to travel, and the right to vote. Buffer zones directly effect these fundamental rights.

Someone needs to raise the "bill of attainder" challenge. Although this phrase has seen little use in modern courts it is directly on point for sex offender laws. "A bill of attainder, is a legislative act which inflicts punishment without judicial trial and includes any legislative act which takes away the life, liberty or property of a particular named or easily ascertainable person or group of persons because the legislature thinks them guilty of conduct which deserves punishment." Cummings v. Missouri (1867).

The Founders were very concerned about Bills of Attainder and took the time to put the phrase into the U.S. Constitution. It is time to reassert its importance and put the issue before a court.

whatsthis said...

Drew, Have you sent to getsmart before 8-1-07 some of this good information that you have? If not I will be glad to do so. The thing I really don't understand is how they can get by with saying that they are not violating the ex post facto when it is very clear that so many families and children are be punished by the AWA act.

Anonymous said...

I hope it gets so bad that a majority of offenders all around the states just stop registering because of the boundry laws..then they'll really have a problem.

Drew said...


The short answer is no.

When I say "challenge", I mean bring the issue to a court. A court can strike down a law or portion of a law that is unconstitutional. This is a different process than the notice and comment that accompanies agency rulemaking.

Before an administrative agency changes or adds a rule, it usually gives notice of the rule change, and allows an opportunity for comment. Sometimes it is very hard to find out when a rule that will effect you is going to be added or changed. Administrative agencies can take comments under advisement, or completely ignore the comments.

The Adam Walsh Act delegated to the Attorney General the power to make the Act retroactive. I hate to say this, but Alberto Gonzales already made the Act retroactive earlier this year, and gave reasons why this retroactivity should be applicable before the usual notice and comment period. The major rulemaking decision, the retroactive nature of the Adam Walsh Act, is a done deal. I don't think any Constitutional arguments, or appeals to reason are going to sway the embattled AG on this part of the AWA.

The AG has to develop rules to implement the AWA, including rules to notify people of the need to register, and rules to determine if a state is substantially compliant with the AWA. There are other parts of the Act that may require important rulemaking. Frankly, I have not paid enough attention to draft a comment in the legalese needed for someone at the AG's office to read it with actual consideration.

Instead, I have been focusing on the state level. Remember, each State has to ratify a version of the AWA before it becomes local law. Sometimes States assert their sovereignty. It is possible that a State could decide not to implement the AWA.