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Florida Homeless Sex Offender Ruling Reversed, FDOC Changes Policy Anyway

by David M. Reutter

Florida?s Fifth District Court of Appeals has reversed, on procedural grounds, an order by the Volusia County Circuit Court that enjoined the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) from engaging in the ?practice of automatically violating the probation of every sex offender who fails to give an address acceptable pursuant to Section 948.30(1)(6), Florida Statute (2005), at the time of a scheduled release from incarceration.? PLN reported the circuit court order. [See: PLN, Jan. 2007, p. 36].

FDOC?s policy was to violate, upon release, all sex offenders who failed to provide an address that was not ?within 1,000 feet of a school, day care center, park, playground, or other place where children regularly congregate,? maintaining that homelessness was not an excuse for noncompliance. The Fifth District Court said it was ?sympathetic? to the circuit court?s frustration with FDOC?s actions and to the notion of essential fairness in the lower court?s order.

Nonetheless, several procedural issues required the appellate court to reverse. ?First, the DOC was not a party to the proceedings and, evidently, no notice was given to DOC that such an order was within the contemplation of the court,? the Fifth District found.

The appellate court further said the FDOC?s policy of re-arresting probationers ?before they can exit the prison? for failure to have an acceptable address was ?baffling.? The Fifth District noted that the circuit court?s order was ?admirable in many respects and bears reproducing in its entirety? as an appendix to the Court?s ruling.
Nonetheless, the lower court?s order was vacated. See: Dept. of Corrections v. Daughtry, 954 So.2d 659 (Fla.App. 5 Dist. 2007).

FDOC did, however, change its policy. The department now allows sex offenders to temporarily reside at a motel or be monitored wherever the offender is living. Five sex offenders are staying under a bridge in Miami. ?I got nowhere I can go,? remarked Rene Matamoros, a registered sex offender who lives under the Julia Tuttle Causeway. Pursuant to a city ordinance, sex offenders are barred from living within 2,500 feet of schools, parks and other places where children are likely to be present.

?Because of those restrictions, because there are many places that children congregate, because of 2,500 feet, that?s almost half a mile, that?s a pretty long way when you are talking about an urban area like Miami, so it isn?t surprising that we say we are trying but we don?t have a place for these people to live in,? said FDOC spokesman Bruce Grant.

Homelessness isn?t a problem for only Florida sex offenders. On August 4, 2007, it was reported that a homeless sex offender in Georgia, Larry W. Moore, faced a life sentence for violating that state?s sex offender registration law. ?One of the requirements when you become a sex offender is you have to have an address,? said Sgt. Ray Hardin, with the Richmond Co. Sheriff?s Department.

Since July 2006 at least 15 sex offenders in Georgia have been charged with registration violations due to homelessness. The policy is being challenged by the Southern Center for Human Rights and the ACLU.

Additional sources: Orlando Sentinel, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Related legal case

Dept. of Corrections v. Daughtry