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Law restricting where sex offenders can live is unconstitutional, L.A. judge rules [Updated]

Saying sex offenders are being forced to choose between prison and homelessness, a Los Angeles judge issued an opinion this week blocking enforcement of provisions a state law restricting how close those offenders can live from parks or schools.

Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza issued the 10-page ruling after four registered sex offenders petitioned the court, arguing that the legislation known as Jessica's Law was unconstitutional.

He said the court had received about 650 habeas corpus petitions raising similar legal issues, and that hundreds more were being prepared by the public defender's and alternate public defender's offices.

"The court is not a 'potted plant' and need not sit idly by in the face of immediate, ongoing and significant violations of parolee constitutional rights," Espinoza wrote.

Proposition 83, which is better known as Jessica's Law and was overwhelmingly passed by state voters in 2006, imposes strict residency requirements on sex offenders, including requirements forbidding them from residing within 2,000 feet of any public or private school or park where children regularly gather.

Before the law passed, those residency requirements were imposed only on offenders whose victims were children.

Civil rights attorneys have argued that provisions of the law make it impossible for some registered sex offenders to live in densely populated cities.

Nearly all of San Francisco, for example, is off-limits to sex offenders because of the number of parks and schools close to housing. Los Angeles officials also said that there are few places in the city where sex offenders can find housing that meets Jessica's Law requirements.

The California Supreme Court ruled in February that registered sex offenders could challenge residency requirements in the law if it proves impossible to avoid living near parks and schools.

State corrections officials said Wednesday that they could not comment on the specifics of Espinoza's ruling, but said they would continue to ensure residency restrictions are imposed in cases where there is a valid reason to continue enforcing them.

"There are other tools that the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation can and will continue to use to further public safety, including residency restrictions specific to each offender," said the agency spokesman Luis Patino.

In his opinion, Espinoza cited comments by Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck that the Jessica's Law restrictions had resulted in "a marked increase of homeless/transient registrants." The judge noted that in 2007, there were 30 homeless sex offenders on active parole in the city of Los Angeles. By September of this year, that number had jumped to 259.

[Corrected at 10:10 p.m.: A previous version of this story said there were 30 sex offenders on active parole in the city of Los Angeles in 2007. There were 30 homeless sex offenders on active parole in the city of Los Angeles in 2007.]

"Rather than protecting public safety, it appears that the sharp rise in homelessness rates in sex offenders on active parole in Los Angeles County actually undermines public safety." wrote Espinoza, who is the supervising judge of the Los Angeles County criminal courts. "The evidence presented suggests that despite lay belief, a sex offender parolee's residential proximity to a school or park where children regularly gather does not bear on the parolee's likelihood to commit a sexual offense against a child."

LAPD officials said they were reviewing the court decision and had no immediate comment on its specifics.

Last month, in a briefing for the Los Angeles Police Commission, Det. Diane Webb, who heads a unit responsible for tracking the whereabouts of sex offenders, said there are about 5,100 registered sex offenders living in the city.

Of those, about 20%, or approximately 1,020 people, are on parole for felony crimes and are prohibited by state law from living near a school or park where children gather, Webb said.

She said that some of the city's sex-offender population has come to Los Angeles from surrounding cities that have passed additional sex-offender laws that make it next to impossible for offenders to find a place to live and push them to look elsewhere, but that Los Angeles does not have any additional laws on its books, making it a feasible destination.

 -- Andrew Blankstein

Comments () | Archives (79)

Too bad we just can't kill them - tha't real justice for what they have done!

I'm sorry, but no where in the constitution where it saids if you violate a law, you will have your rights stripped. That is nonsense, and if you people it should then this country is not for you.

This is not the former USSR or North Vietnam. Our constitution suppose to mean something, even if one made a mistake. The constant additions to an already sentenced individuals is quite frankly disturbing. How would you like to have had a past drunk driving conviction, only to be told years after the fact your driving is limited?

Despite some people's opinions here, not all "FORMER" sex offenders sick or perverted OR will reoffend. Many were very young themselves and despite the reason/excuse, these people deserves a seconds chance. If they are THAT dangerous, then they should not be out in public period.

If we can allow murderers to roam free, then some guy who had an inappropriate photo on their computer does too.

I Agree with the Emperor its all on a Case By case. and for all of you that say that we need to kill them all you need to grow up and read all the facks before you say something so childish I have kids and i know as a Parent its up to us to protect them. its dumb comments that make it that much more difficult to past laws. This Judge got the Guts to stand up for what is right. I believe if we want to put laws on predators then why are we not looking at the Murders and the ones that need to be monitor by law enforments. Living 3 blocks away from a school or Park is not going to stop them form walking or Driving if they are looking for there Prey.. I want to know exactly where they are living instead of having them sleeping outside my house...

I think the judge is absolutely right. And if anyone is responsible for pedophiles running around all over the place, it's the Legislature that should have passed a law assuring that people who rape little kids never have to be homeless again, because they'll be serving a life sentence for their first offense.

But if they kept pedophiles in prison, they'd have to free all these non violent drug offenders to make room for them. And we couldn't have that, now could we?

Finally judges are waking up and realizing the devastation these insane laws are causing.
Not only do they violate human rights, constitutional protections and ethics but they also harm families and cost tax payers billions of tax dollars...

When will this nation wake up and stop allowing politicians and do-gooders to go about the nation having ignorant laws being passed.
Take Mark Lunsford.. the man responsible for Jessica's Law in the first place...

His own personal computer was found to be linked to CHILD PORN, He goes about the nation seeking to get people to push for these type laws.. knowing he has been involved with child porn himself... not only that, but his son, Joshua was caught molesting a little girl, the Adult Joshua Lunsford Child Molester but did Mark Lunsford support HIS son going to prison or on the registry... NO, he helped keep his child molesting son off the registry.
Just google Joshua Lunsford cfcamerica you will see the facts...
Thank God this judge is doing the right thing.

When a person has paid there debt to society they are considered free after that except where a sex crime is concerned. many more drug addicts,robbers, murderers, asulters,repeat there crimes when they are released, but are not expected to live away from others. not all people with these convictions acually did the crimes. And many are one time offenders who made a really bad decision and have paid a disproportionately high price. Many have no violence attached to them either and they pay the same price as the worst of them. The problem is they are all included in one group no matter what the cercumstances are

The judge is right; danger to children and the public increases when you can't track offenders due to Jessica's law.

When offenders are homeless, law enforcement cannot keep track of them since they don't know where they live.

Jessica's law increases homelessness among offenders because it severely limits where they can live since a majority of the housing falls within the boundaries excluded by the law.

So Jessica's law increases danger to children and the public because it causes homelessness that prevents law enforcement from tracking offenders.

"Rather than protecting public safety, it appears that the sharp rise in homelessness rates in sex offenders on active parole in Los Angeles County actually undermines public safety." wrote Espinoza, who is the supervising judge of the Los Angeles County criminal courts. "The evidence presented suggests that despite lay belief, a sex offender parolee's residential proximity to a school or park where children regularly gather does not bear on the parolee's likelihood to commit a sexual offense against a child."
Many reports by professionals show where a person lives has nothing to do with where they do their crime....

Thus, the residency restrictions are a waste of money and a severe breach of constitutional rights.

What next, only certain drinking fountains allowed for anyone who has a sex offense in their past...
No Sex Offender Restraunts...sex offenders cannot vote...

I personally dispise the practice of labeling a PERSON, A UNITED STATES CITIZEN A THING, Changing a person into a Sex Offender.

These are People we are talking about.. not things... further more, what about all the wives and children of ex offenders who are being banished by these laws...
How do these laws protect INNOCENT CHILDREN of ex offenders who are made homeless by all these laws...
I praise the Intelligence of this Judge.

Anything wrong with moving all the little girl and boy rapist and molesters out to the desert? Put them in a barb-wire community and drop supplies to them every other week.

Does Judge Peter Espainoza think that unconstitutional? OK - then move all of them next to the Judges house. My bet he would be at home with the boys of evil.

I think it will be interesting to see how the Attorney General decides whether to appeal this lower court decision invalidating a voter passed law.

I will agree that there are terrible terrible people out there. But not every sex offender is in that group. My husband is a sex offender because 14 years ago he and his girlfriend when they were young ended up getting pregnant and had a baby. Because he wouldn't allow her to abort their baby or adopt him out her parents reported him for having sex with a minor who was one month away from being of legal age. AND they didn't report it until after their baby was already two months old! If he were so vile why didn't they report it the moment they found out she was pregnant? They were totally accepting of their relationship and introduced him as their daughter's fiance. And even before she got pregnant he proposed to her! They were going to be married had it not been for all that!

How's that for an EVIL SEX OFFENDER. Would it have been better if he would have said "yeah kill our baby". Lets see how many of you would say that he should live in prison for that. I don't condone they had premarital sex but it happens. How many of you had a sexual or semi sexual relationship before you were of age? You have to realize not EVERY person in these lumped together groups are the same sick people that are the cause of law's like Jessica's Law. However, all of them are being treated like they are. Anything consensual shouldn't be considered the same.

Clearly the vast majority of posters here do not understand the equal protection clause as enumerated in the Constitution.


Study it and understand why it is more important to live under freedom versus the heavy hand of the government. The unintended consequence of these well-meaning laws merely puts more of our lives in the hands of people who have no vested interest in protecting us, just continued employment on everyone's dime.

Ooo boogly boogly! Be afraid of the sex offender! Don't you people realize that most sex offenses against children and kidnappings are by those that they know? It's usually a relative (creepy uncle) or person they know through church (priests) or school (coaches). Quit making it seem like an us against them nimby problem. Besides, how would you like it if your teenage son had sex with his teenage girlfriend and he ended up on the sex offenders list and was screwed for life?

Hal, et al. - These animals may look human, but they're not. And they don't deserve the same civil rights as normal human beings. The first offence should bring exile to a deserted island where they can be removed from the gene pool and molest, rape and murder each other another to their hearts' content. We should not let their human appearence fool us and interfere with our ability to protect ourselves. A friend of mine just finished as a juror on a federal case where the adult defendant video-taped himself having intercourse with a two-year-old baby. Tell me that's human!

Ok so your 18 year old son just got caught doing it with his 17 year old girlfriend. Guess what? By this law he is a sex offender and would have to abide by the residency laws. If he lives at home with you and you live near a park or school he will have to find a new place to live. Is he a threat to society or at risk of committing a sex crime? This law does not work!

This ruling was inevitable and will hopefully be followed by others of its kind across the nation. Jessica's Law was passed and is being enforced in direct opposition to anything that makes sense and to the vast body of research that tells us the truth. The vast majority of former offenders committed no offense against a child. Between 93 and 96% of sexual crime against children is committed, not by registered sex offenders, but by the never-arrested family members and close acquaintances of the children being molested. Registered sex offenders are responsible for less than one percent of sexual crime against children. You could banish every registered sex offender in California to the moon and would not see any decrease at all in sexual assault against children.

The need for Jessica's Law is the problem, and it lies within the courts.

If a sex offender has not rehabilitated and not deemed fit for society, they should not be released. There shouldn't be a middle ground of, 'He behaves well and we're overcrowded' or, 'His sentance is up, but I don't think he's ready to be near kids yet.'

Fit or unfit; free to live wherever, or Jail.

My my, what a overwhelming crowd of Constitution haters you folks are.

First, a lesson for all you vitcim's rights and folks out there. The Bill of Rights is nearly completely devoted to granting and enshrining the rights of ONE type of person in this country - the rights of the accused at trial. Nowhere in our Constitution will you find any mention of the word "victim" nor of their rights. The only rights victims have is vested in the duties of the prosecutor to present his or her case in a court of law.

Second, executing all sex offenders will not stop sexual offenses and it will only serve to further endanger the lives of potential victims where a person who commits a sex crime will have no reason to let the victim live if the punishment is the same whether the child lives or dies.

Third, the judge in this case is spot-on and should be commended for following the law of the land and not the whims of the angry mob. The judge's opinion is based entirely on law, common sense and facts, unlike the smoke, magic dust and fairy tales the runners told to get the law passed.

Fourth, if we do the island thing, that's fine, but we must first plan ahead and make the island big enough. Since these dumb laws have come out we have added about 800,000 sex offenders the this list. The list grows each year by about 40,000 BRAND NEW sex offenders - people who were never on the list, who committed their first sex crime. In fact, the overwhelming majority of people on the list are people without repeat offenses. On California's list, 85% have commited their sexual offense over 10 years ago. This means that no matter where you put them, someone else back in your fantasy world will commit a new sex offense against your child, statistically it will be your husband, son, brother or someone close to you that does it and then they will have to go to the island. Your island will become a nation of it's own in 25 years and in 100 years it could have a population greater than our own.

Finally, sex offenders have the LOWEST rate of recidivism of all criminals, not the highest. These are from those soft on crime organzations called the US Department of Justice and the California Department of Corrections. just this week a man with no history of sexual offenses admitted that he tried to rape and then killed a 20 year old girl 10 years ago. For every John Gardner we hear about in the media, there are 100 Mellissa Huckaby's out there. These crimes are not happening any more today than 30 years ago either, they're just reported more. There are actually LESS sex crimes against children today than 30 years ago.

As for the animal who videotaped himself raping a 2 year old, he is no monster than one of your "non-violent" drug offenders who drops their girlfriend in a drum of acid. They are both cut from the same cloth.

Good ruling. After offenders have paid their dept to society as determined by the court, they should be free to live where they choose, as any other ex-con. The nature of the crime is immaterial.

The entire concept of sex offender registries makes plain that adding the word "Rehabilitation" to the end of the California Department of Corrections is a joke. There is no rehabilitation happening in our prison system; if anything, inappropriate behaviors are reinforced by the environment. Which means that when people have "served their time," they are just as dangerous as when they went in, if not moreso.

That is the problem we need to solve. We need to recognize that people who are convicted of sex crimes (when it's really a sex crime, and not just public indecency) won't be suddenly convinced not to reoffend by punishment. They need *treatment*. They need help. Including -- no, ESPECIALLY -- those who have preyed on children.

I have two children, and I ignore the sex offender registries. Why? Because MOST offenders have never been caught. Instead, I protect my children by being aware of what's going on and encouraging them to develop and trust their instincts about people. If someone creeps you out, you DO NOT worry about being polite or making a scene... you just get away from them. End of story. This is the best protection against sexual predators hands-down.

I don't think this judge is a moron. He has the brains to see the practical aspects of the big picture, as opposed to some of the "experts" posting here.

As a retired law enforcement officer, I think all these knee-jerk laws are tantamount to cornering an animal and not giving him a way out. What's gonna happen? He'll fight. What the hell would you do?

You want to keep them in prison? Cool. You want to confine them to special facilities? Cool. Only, don't parole 'em out of the joint, and then tell them they don't have a place to live. You're just adding to the problem.

Don't worry about it folks, unless you are one of my neighbors in Venice. They are just living here in RVs and their cars anyway. Y'all are safe to go to your parks and playgrounds. Thanks Bill Rosendahl.

This has been a no-win law! We hear horrific news about abused and molested children and it hurts us to our core, but to classifiy all sex offenders into the same category is not fair in my opinion. I am the mother of a victim and the mother of the offender. I have seen both sides and believe me you do not know until you walk this road. There is gut-wrenching pain on both sides. As individual as each and everyone of us are, so too are the stories behind each sex offender. May God help us all.

I'm glad somebody has finally put a dose of reality to these residency restrictions. I'm a teacher and a parent who wants to know if there is a predator around but these laws do nothing but create a problem for us. It forces people to be homeless and that makes it even harder for them to find a job. This gives them more time in which they are likely to recidivate. More over, these laws do not in any way to restrict where such people can go during the daytime. The restrictions should be decided on a case by case basis at the time of probation and the state should make it easy to know if these people are in our neighborhoods. Also, I believe these laws actually restrict how many offenders can live a particular group home and therefore we can't "herd" them together for treatment and observation.

I note, you are WRONG to suggest that only sex offenders on parole are subject to the residency restrictions. In fact, that restriction applies to everyone ever convicted of a sex offense since 1947.

The original law applied only to parolees. But voters subsequently passed an initiative that, among other things, applied the residency restrictions to all FORMER sex offenders, even those long since done with parole, and for life.

I'm sure this case addressed all sex offenders, not only those on parole. The emphasis of discussion about those on parole would merely be to make the strongest point, because if even they cannot have their residency restricted, of course those who have completed parole, or never even went to prison for their offense, could not be restricted.

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