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Jessica’s Law for California Sex Offenders

California Court’s Stance on Sex Offenders

In 2006, 70 percent of California voters approved The Sexual Predator Punishment and Control Acts, also known as Jessica’s Law. In fact, 5,926,800 of California’s approximately 8 million voters approved the legislation. The law was authored by Republican Senator George Runner and Republican State Assemblywoman Sharon Runner, husband and wife legislators.  The idea for the law and the name was in memoriam to Jessica Lunsford; the law originated in Florida in 2005 and was adopted by several other states. Jessica was a nine-year-old girl living in Florida when she was kidnapped, sexually battered, and murdered in February of 2005. Her attacker was John Couey, a man who had previously been convicted for sex offenses. Public outcry followed in videotaped confession in which he described burying the child alive. Couey was recommended for the death penalty by a jury in 2007 but died of cancer in 2009 before his sentence was finalized.

Jessica’s Law

The law passed in California was expansive and altered a good deal of the way sex offenders engaged in the criminal justice system as well as the Welfare and Institutions Code. Penalties for sex offenders were increased, the definition of “sex offense” was expanded, early release provisions were done away with, court-imposed fees for sex offenders were increased, and lifelong GPS for high risk offenders was implemented. In addition sex offenders are prohibited from living within 2,000 feet of a school or any area where children gather. This provision was controversial for many as this basically precluded any convicted sex offender from living in California cities. The new law also provided that a sex offender who has any prior criminal activity could be civilly committed for an unlimited length of time. Civil commitment involves involuntary stays in a hospital or community. The law was opposed by California Attorneys for Criminal Justice. The organization argued it would be much too difficult to find somewhere for freed convicts to live. That argument was recently taken up by the California Supreme Court.

A Constitutional Conundrum

criminal lawyerOn Monday March 2, Californias highest court ruled that Jessica’s Law was in conflict with both federal and state constitutional provisions. Specifically, it conflicted with the provisions that prohibited any convicted sex offender from seeking residency in specific parts of the state. In the opinion for the court Justice Baxter wrote, Blanket enforcement of residency restrictions against these parolees has infringed on their liberty and privacy interests, however, limited, while bearing no rational relationship to advancing the state’s legitimate goal of protecting children from sexual predators. The Justice noted that every United States citizen has a basic constitutional right to be free of unreasonable, arbitrary and oppressive official action. The court heard a study conducted by San Diego County District Attorney’s Office which found that virtually the entire downtown area of was closed to a convicted sex offender; this makes up most of the rental market in San Diego. The court noted that not having a place to live severely cuts off any opportunity for a parolees rehabilitation.

At Brownstone Law our hearts go out to the families of victims and we hope to see a just and constructive outcome from this ruling.

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