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Florida DOC’s Policy Prohibiting Release of Sex Offenders Without Address Unconstitutional

Florida DOC's Policy Prohibiting Release of Sex Offenders Without Address Unconstitutional

by David M. Reutter

In October, 2005, a Florida Circuit Court has held that a Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) policy that requires a sex offender to provide a physical address or face indefinite imprisonment is unconstitutional.

Christopher A. Daughtry was convicted on June 23, 2000, of lewd or lascivious assault upon a child. He was sentenced to a split sentence of seven years imprisonment to be followed by five years of sex offender probation. Daughtry reached the end of his term of imprisonment on August 6, 2005. Before he was physically released, the FDOC performed a warrantless arrest for a purported violation of probation. The stated basis for the arrest was Daughtry's failure to provide an address where he would reside when released to probation.

Under Florida law, sex offenders with a victim under eighteen years of age are prohibited from "living within 1,000 feet of a school, day care center, park, playground, or other place" where children regularly congregate. Florida law also requires FDOC to report information concerning sex offenders, including an offender's intended residence if known, to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) when release occurs. FDOC contended it had an inescapable duty to report a satisfactory address to the FDLE.

FDOC recognized that the Court could find Daughtry not guilty of a violation and order his release. FDOC, however, said it would re-arrest Daughtry each time he was released if he could not provide a suitable address. The Court set several status conferences hoping Daughtry would locate an acceptable address.

Unfortunately, Daughtry was unable to accomplish the daunting task of finding a post-release home from prison with no money, no job, and no family or friends to assist him. Daughtry's only asset or resource was his ability to work and earn money. Of course, prison, jail and parole officials offered no assistance in finding him a place to live. The Court found that Volusia County Department Of Corrections put the final nail in the coffin built by FDOC when it placed Daughtry in "lockdown," which prohibited him from making phone calls, "for his own protection" from other prisoners who knew he was a sex offender.

The Court found the FDOC's action overrode the decision state policymakers made many years ago to employ imprisonment, probation and a discretionary combination of the two as appropriate sentences. The FDOC, moreover, had no entitlement to set into place a standard that was impossible to perform, and then elevate to a criminal act the failure to perform to that standard. FDOC cannot rewrite the law by creative construction, nor overrule decisions of judicial bodies by its acts, the Court held.

The Court ordered FDOC to cease its practice of violating sex offenders who do not provide an acceptable address upon release; to monitor Daughtry by GPS monitoring and daily personal contact with a probation officer; to assist Daughtry in obtaining suitable housing utilizing available state funds; and to allow him to describe a residence a person of average intelligence could locate, which could include residing under a bridge.

The State has filed an appeal. "Our understanding of the law is that homelessness is not an option for a sex offender in the 5th District [Court of Appeals]," said prosecutor Phil Havens. PLN will report future developments. See: Florida v. Daughtry, Seventh Judicial Circuit Court, Volusia County, Case No: 99-34205.

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Related legal case

Florida v. Daughtry