Sex Crimes

Two Federal Courts Call BS on Banning Sex Offenders From 'Child Safety Zones'

Rulings deem Indiana and North Carolina laws unconstitutionally vague and unjustifiably wide.

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A couple of years ago, Brian Valenti, a registered sex offender who lives in Hartford City, Indiana, received a citation for sitting in his brother's car. The car was parked outside his brother's house, which happens to be across the street from a school. By sitting in it, Valenti violated a local ordinance prohibiting anyone convicted of a sex offense involving a minor from entering a long list of "child safety zones"—including schools, parks, libraries, swimming pools, athletic complexes, movie theaters, and bowling alleys— or "loitering" within 300 feet of those locations. Because of Hartford City's ordinance, Valenti, who committed a sex offense 28 years ago in California, was not allowed to visit his daughter's school, go to the library with her, visit local parks, join the YMCA, enroll his daughter in activities there, go bowling with his family, or vote at his designated polling place.

Under a similar law in North Carolina, registered sex offenders whose crimes involved minors or violence are forbidden to venture within 300 feet of "any place intended primarily for the use, care, or supervision of minors." They are also required to stay away from "any place where minors gather for regularly scheduled educational, recreational, or social programs." Five sex offenders who challenged the law said it prevented them from attending church, visiting their children's schools, participating in adult softball games, going to events at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds, eating at fast food restaurants with play areas, attending town council meetings held near a library, and visiting the state legislature, which meets in a building near a natural history museum that attracts children. The plaintiffs also worried that they were committing felonies by working on construction projects within a 300-foot zone or by going shopping or commuting to work, since they could easily drive by forbidden locations on the way.

Last week federal courts overturned both of these laws, deeming them unconstitutionally vague. The judge who heard Valenti's challenge to Hartford City's ordinance also concluded that it imposed retroactive punishment, violating the Indiana Constitution's ban on ex post facto laws, while the appeals court that ruled against North Carolina's law found that it unjustifiably interfered with activities protected by the First Amendment. Like last summer's 6th Circuit decision against Michigan's Sex Offender Registration Act, last week's rulings go beyond the usual hand waving about child protection to ask whether the restrictions imposed by such laws can be justified by their purported public safety benefits.

When Valenti was fined for sitting in his brother's car, Hartford City's ordinance defined loitering near a child safety zone as "standing [or] sitting idly, whether or not the person is in a vehicle or remaining in or around an area." In 2015 the city council changed that definition to "remaining in a place or circulating around a place under circumstances that would warrant a reasonable person to believe that the primary purpose or effect of the behavior is to enable a sex offender to satisfy an unlawful sexual desire, or to locate, lure, or harass a potential victim." U.S. District Judge Theresa Springmann concluded that both definitions violate the 14th Amendment's guarantee of due process, since they fail to give people fair notice of when they are violating the law and invite arbitrary enforcement.

Springmann also found that the ordinance's punitive effect outweighed its regulatory purpose, meaning that even if it were crystal clear it could not constitutionally be applied to sex offenders convicted before it was passed. "Considered as a whole," she writes, "the Ordinance imposes substantial affirmative restraints on the Plaintiff that he did not have fair warning of when he committed his offense in 1988, or was convicted in 1993." Those restrictions, she concludes, are excessive in light of the regulatory purpose they are supposed to serve, Springmann notes that "the Ordinance does not provide any means by which the Plaintiff can petition for an exemption," "does not provide any particularized risk assessment," and does not make exceptions for situations that pose no plausible threat to public safety, such as parent-teacher conferences.

The North Carolina law does allow such exceptions with special permission, but it is broader than the Hartford City ordinance in that it does not specify all the settings to which it applies, leaving sex offenders and police the challenge of figuring out what is meant by "any place where minors gather for regularly scheduled educational, recreational, or social programs." The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit agreed with the plaintiffs that a sex offender or a cop "cannot reasonably determine (1) whether a program for minors is 'regularly scheduled' or (2) what places qualify as those 'where minors gather.'" Hence "that subsection does not meet the standards of due process because it is unconstitutionally vague."

Like Judge Springmann, the 4th Circuit also highlighted the indiscriminate scope of the law, which in North Carolina's case seeks to keep sex offenders away from places where minors gather even when their crimes had nothing to do with children. "It applies to all restricted sex offenders, not just those who pose a danger to minors or are likely to pose such a danger," the court notes. Since the law interferes with activities protected by the First Amendment, such as attending church services and lobbying legislators, the state was required to present evidence of a reasonable fit between the restrictions and the goal of protecting children. Yet "for reasons not apparent from the record," it conspicuously failed to do so. "Without empirical data or other similar credible evidence," the 4th Circuit says, "it is not possible to tell" whether the 300-foot rule "responds at all to the State's legitimate interest in protecting minors from sexual assault."

That is a pretty strong indictment of the failure to justify the burdens that legislators impose on sex offenders long after they have served their sentences, without regard to the threat they currently pose. The 4th Circuit's dismay at the state's lack of proof is reminiscent of what the 6th Circuit said in August about Michigan's law: that there was "no evidence in the record that the difficulties the statute imposes on registrants are counterbalanced by any positive effects." To the contrary, it said, "the punitive effects of these blanket restrictions…far exceed even a generous assessment of their salutary effects." After years of deferring to pretty much anything legislators did in the name of protecting children from sexual predators, the federal courts are finally beginning to ask whether these laws make sense in light of the goals they are supposed to achieve.

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35 responses to “Two Federal Courts Call BS on Banning Sex Offenders From 'Child Safety Zones'

  1. ‘Child Safety Zones’

    So any child outside the zone is fair game?

    1. Yes, it’s just like a hunting license, you see.

      1. “I bagged this one while it was playing Pokemon Go.”

    2. Well, you DO have to be in season, of course.

  2. So these judges want legislators to actually do work before blindly padding their resumes with tough-on-crime-and-think-of-the-children laws.

  3. Either you’re too dangerous to be trusted outside of prison or you’re not. If it’s true that sex offenders of a certain kind of are incapable of being rehabilitated and they commit a serious offense they should just remain locked up, not paroled.

    The others should be offered normal conditions of parole and allowed to live normal lives.

    1. To keep the worst of them jailed, we’d have to let pot smokers go, to make room…

      We just can’t have that!!!!

      ‘Cause we all know, the trauma of knowing that a pot smoker lives next door to you, is SOOOOO much worse than the trauma of having your child molested!!!!

      1. Weed fiends are a threat to the very Moral Fabric of the Local Galactic Cluster! If we don’t eradicate them all, they will cause us ALL to fall into doom, despair, agony, perdition, and uber-booogeredness!!!!

        1. Well I was just worried about a shortage of Doritos if we let them out. Now you give me this.

      2. Easiest solution: death penalty for sex offenders and pot smokers.

        1. Should you be focused on running the Philippines?

          1. *Shouldn’t

            1. Only time will tell if they’re doing it wrong.

              1. I agree with both “$park? is totally a Swifty” and Duatarte of the Philippines that all the druggies and pervs should be put to death, yes, obliviously?

                However, it seems that we have neglected an equally nefarious band of evil-doers, and that is those wretched, arrogant criminals who DARE to blow upon a cheap plastic flute w/o permission from a licensed physician! Google “lung flute” or look it up at http://www.churchofSQRLS.com to learn about these arrogant, dangerous criminals!

      3. SQRLSY! They’ll let a pedophile into any restaurant with no schools/playgrounds within 1000 ft of the front door.

        Smokers have to stay 25-30 ft away no matter where the school is…

      4. When the pot fiends steal your stuff to pay for their habits, you’ll change your mind about them.

    2. ^this^

      Enough of these fucking unconstitutional lists and other ‘regulations’ infringing on people’s rights.

  4. GOOD THING STEVE SMITH NEVER CONVICTED!!

  5. My child rape policy is the same as my gun policy. You’re allowed to carry your weapon anywhere you want, just don’t shoot people with it without justification.

    1. My child rape policy is the same as my gun policy

      “This one’s for fighting, this one’s for fun”?

  6. Those STEVE SMITH-free signs never helped. Of course STEVE SMITH can’t read – at least not how we understand the concept of reading.

    1. STEVE SMITH KNOW MORE THAN STEVE SMITH THINK YOU KNOW!

  7. I hate you and your children. Yes, YOU!

  8. So in the gov’t eyes, those people are fair game to ruin their life forever after they serve their sentence. We don’t treat murderers that way. Once you to your time that’s paying your debt to society.

    If you are that dangerous you can’t drive by a library, then you are too dangerous to be out of prison in the first place. Why not keep them locked up forever, because that’s pretty much what you are doing.

    1. They can’t pay taxes if they are locked up.

    2. Obviously, the danger outside these zones is so high that children should be prohibited from leaving the zone unless a parent or guardian is present. If colleges are safe zones, then why are 25% of the women there being sexually assaulted if this molester law is so good?

    3. It’s a way to take away people’s constitutional rights. That is the goal. Once everyone has accepted the current status quo, they’ll just make more lists and more excuses to put more people on them. People with rights are dangerous and the more of them there are, the more dangerous it is to our ruling elites. So you just start making everyone a criminal, problem solved.

    4. Exactly. The deal is supposed to be that you serve your time and your “debt to society” is fulfilled. If prison is punishment, then the punishment should end when you’re released. If prison is rehabilitation, then why are you releasing people who aren’t rehabilitated?

  9. a long list of “child safety zones”?including schools, parks, libraries, swimming pools, athletic complexes, movie theaters, and bowling alleys

    I note that the list does not include pizza parlors. An innocent oversight, surely, and not further evidence of the pizza pedo cabal’s influence over government.

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  11. This entire registry scheme needs to be abolished.

  12. Wait — did I just hear a decision that might be applicable to the Lautenberg act?

    “… the Ordinance imposes substantial affirmative restraints on the Plaintiff that he did not have fair warning of when he committed his offense in 1988, or was convicted in 1993.”
    — Check. Pleading guilty or “no contest” to a misdemeanor of slapping your spouse’s filthy mouth during a heated argument around 1992 counts as a “domestic violence” conviction under a law passed in 1997. Which means not even the defendant’s lawyer could tell him what future consequences or punishments might be.

    “…the Ordinance does not provide any means by which the Plaintiff can petition for an exemption,” “does not provide any particularized risk assessment…”
    — Check. Under the misguided Lautenberg act there’s no relief mechanism. It doesn’t allow exemptions for an incident occurring during great emotional stress (e.g. loss of a loved one, while defendant was injured or in pain, etc.) and it does not require a risk assessment or finding, especially years later with no record of violence or retaliation.

    “…and does not make exceptions for situations that pose no plausible threat to public safety…”
    — Check. Is there any way to indicate an increased risk to public safety when a person once struck a spouse one time in 10 or 12 years? I think not. There’s a difference between someone who is a habitual batterer and someone pushed or goaded beyond their limits.

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  15. When will that line of reasoning be espoused by SCOTUS? When will the proverbial stake ever be driven through this nation’s draconian sex offender laws? When will our SCOTUS justices stop being political activists and be justices?

    “Frightening and High” originated by Robert Freeman-Longo has long-since been disproven with empirical scientific data and yet the courts keep going back to Freeman-Longo’s unsubstantiated claim made in 1986 in a layperson’s psychology magazine. That’s deliberate indifference to the truth.

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