By CLAUDIA KOERNER
SANTA ANA - The Orange County District Attorney’s Office plans to go to the California Supreme Court to defend local ordinances that ban registered sex offenders from city parks without police permission.
A state appeals court on Monday struck down an Irvine law that barred registered sex offenders from city parks without written permission from police, a ruling that will become legal precedent. On Friday, the court also struck down a similar Orange County law.
About a dozen other Orange County cities have passed similar ordinances banning sex offenders from parks after a 2011 letter from District Attorney Tony Rackauckas on the issue. Rackauckas helped craft Orange County’s law with county Supervisor Shawn Nelson.
“Protecting children from dangerous sex offenders is an ongoing war, and we believe that it’s one of the most important jobs we have at the D.A.’s (office),” said Susan Kang Schroeder, Rackauckas’ chief of staff.
She said the district attorney plans to seek a hearing with the California Supreme Court. The District Attorney’s Office had anticipated the local laws would end up going through the courts, she added.
“Some of the best minds of the District Attorney’s Office helped draft this law, and we still believe we’re right on the law,” she said.
COUNTY ORDINANCE SPAWNED OTHERS
The Orange County ordinance, which became a model for local cities, made it a misdemeanor for any registered sex offender to enter a county park, beach or other recreational area without permission from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. Those convicted would face six months in jail or a $500 fine.
In Monday’s ruling, a panel of judges said state laws regulating sex offenders pre-empt any local ordinances. State law has long overseen sex-offender registration, the opinion said, which also superseded any written permission from local police.
Citing previous cases, the court said local ordinances may not undermine areas “fully occupied by state law” – where state legislators had already created a comprehensive set of regulations. In such areas, it is implied that state law should overtake local regulations.
State law already regulates where sex offenders may live and also identifies certain sex offenders who must be monitored by law-enforcement officials via GPS. Offenders whose victims were younger than 14 may only enter parks where children gather with permission from their parole agent. Other regulations deal with certain types of sex offenders and day care, schools and jobs involving children.
When looked at together, the laws create a comprehensive system regulating sex offenders’ daily lives, the court said. No outright ban on sex offenders in parks is included in state law, an omission which “manifests a legislative determination that such a ban is not warranted,” the court said. Any local laws in a field regulated in such detail by state law undermines the decisions of the Legislature, the court said.
In the Irvine case, _____ was taken into custody in 2012 after he went to Citrus Glen Park to play tennis. The Orange County Probation Department had received information that the 51-year-old Garden Grove resident, who was convicted of child annoyance in 1996 and was on probation for indecent exposure, often visited the park. He was the first person arrested on suspicion of violating the ordinance in Irvine. At the time of his arrest, four other people had been arrested in connection with the bans in other parts of Orange County.
About 90 percent of child victims of sexual offenses know their offender, almost half of whom are family members, according to the state attorney general. Even with those statistics, it’s important to protect children from strangers, Schroeder said. In some cases, sex offenders go to parks to watch children, she said, and they could use that as an opportunity to get to know children.
“We think it’s best for the sex offenders and the children to keep them out of parks,” she said.
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