Exile Challenges Banishment of Sex Offenders


Patrick Wiese, a 48-year-old Floridian who "served time in prison after having his stepdaughter touch him inappropriately" (as The New York Times describes his crime), has a driver's license that lists his address as "Julia Tuttle Bridge." Wiese is one of 70 or so sex offenders who live "like post-apocalyptic trolls beneath a bridge in the middle of Biscayne Bay" (as The Miami Herald puts it) because of a Miami-Dade County ordinance that prohibits them from residing within 2,500 feet of a school, day care center, park, or playground. Yesterday the ACLU of Florida filed a suit that challenges the ordinance as inconsistent with state law, which prescribes a distance of 1,000 feet and establishes a system for supervising and rehabilitating sex offenders after they're released from prison. The ACLU argues, quite plausibly, that forcing ex-cons to live under a bridge is not conducive to supervision or rehabilitation. As I noted in March, a similar argument was successful in overturning sex offender residence restrictions imposed by Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.

The lead plaintiff in the Florida lawsuit is named Bryan A. Exile, which I prefer to believe is a wonderful coincidence but may actually be due to post-hoc name change. In any case, it accurately reflects his situation. Laws like this one effectively banish sex offenders from living within the jurisdiction to which they apply, a result that is not necessarily accidental. After the Georgia legislature approved residence restrictions that were ultimately overturned by the state Supreme Court (which noted that "there is no place in Georgia where a registered sex offender can live without being continually at risk of being ejected"), the majority leader of the state House expressed the hope that the rules would be so intolerable that sex offenders "will want to move to another state."

A common response to this attitude is to point out that many people subject to residence restrictions as "sex offenders" are neither rapists nor child molesters and may in fact be guilty of nothing more than having consensual sex with teenagers, often when they themselves were teenagers. One of the Julia Tuttle Bridge residents, for example, "served 17 months in jail for having sex with a 14-year-old when he was 18." But even in the case of sex offenders who are guilty of predatory crimes, it makes no sense to release them and then deliberately push them to the margins of society, making it virtually impossible to lead a normal life. Such treatment is not only counterproductive; it constitutes an additional penalty imposed without due process and for no rational reason. After all, why should someone who committed "lewd and lascivious battery" (Exile's crime) be forced to live under a bridge, while your average mugger, arsonist, or murderer is free to live wherever he wants after he serves his sentence?

The ACLU's complaint is here (PDF). Radley Balko noted the Julia Tuttle shantytown in 2007 and 2008. Other Reason coverage of sex offender residence restrictions here.