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San Diego "Predator Free Zones" Struck Down by California Supreme Court

by Christopher Zoukis

The California Supreme Court has ruled that a statute restricting all registered sex offenders on parole in California from residing in large swaths of the state is unconstitutional as applied to registered sex offenders on parole in San Diego.

The challenge, brought by four registered sex offenders on parole in San Diego, alleged that Proposition 83 ("Jessica's Law") infringed on their liberty and privacy interests. The law, enacted in 2006, created "predator free zones" where it was "unlawful for any person for whom registration is required pursuant to Section 290 to reside within 2000 feet of any public or private school, or park where children regularly gather."

The petitioners argued that enforcement of the law in San Diego County essentially made entire cities off-limits to them and that the restrictions were "so unreasonably broad" as to leave them "with no option but prison or homelessness." In fact, all four petitioners were homeless as a result of the law. William Taylor lived in an alley behind his parole agent's office, at the agent's suggestion. Jeffrey Glynn lived in a van. Julie Briley lived in the alley behind the parole office. And Stephen Todd lived in the riverbed of the San Diego River, at his parole agent's behest.

The court found that enforcement of the law in San Diego increased the rate of homelessness among registered sex offenders on parole four to fivefold. Statewide, the evidence suggested that enforcement of the law caused an "alarming increase" in homeless sex offender parolees of approximately 240 percent.

The court came to the unsurprising conclusion that forcing registered sex offenders on parole into homelessness is not good. It "hinder[s] their access to medical treatment, drug and alcohol dependency services, psychological counseling and other rehabilitative services," and perhaps more importantly "hamper[s] the efforts of parole authorities and law enforcement officials to monitor, supervise and rehabilitate [sex offenders] in the interests of public safety."

For purposes of constitutional analysis, the court granted that California has a legitimate goal of protecting children from sexual predators, and that the law was enacted with that in mind. However, the results of the law when applied across the board to all registered sex offenders on parole in San Diego County bore no rational relationship to advancing that goal.

The court's decision was a limited one. The ruling only struck down blanket enforcement of the law in San Diego County. Moreover, the court left in place other laws that would allow the same or even more severe restrictions, so long as such restrictions resulted from an analysis of the particularized circumstances of an individual registered sex offender.

Case:  In re William Taylor, et al., California Supreme Court, No. 5206143 (March 2, 2015).

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Related legal case

In re Taylor



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