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California Supreme Court Voids Ex Post Facto Sex Offender Residency Restrictions

Proposition 83, passed in 2006 by California voters and popularly known as Jessica’s Law, had the stated aim of protecting children from sex offenders. It was later codified at Pen. Code § 3003.5(b), but on March 2, 2015 the California Supreme Court struck down those parts of the law that restrict people convicted of sex crimes prior to Prop 83’s enactment from finding suitable housing after their release from custody. The law prohibited certain sex offenders, as defined by statute, from residing within 2,000 feet of any public or private school or park where children might congregate.

Prisoners’ rights advocates had argued that the restrictions prevented many people who had been convicted prior to the law’s enactment from residing in other than marginal areas, and violated the constitutional prohibition against ex post facto laws. The Supreme Court agreed, finding the law unconstitutional as applied to registered sex offenders on parole in San Diego County, where the suit was initially brought. The Court’s opinion noted that along with difficulty finding housing, parolees had experienced problems securing employment, medical care and other social services such as substance abuse treatment.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) had begun to violate sex offender parolees through blanket enforcement of Jessica’s Law, including the plaintiffs who challenged the statute, some of whom were returned to prison on parole violations. CDCR statistics showed that over a third of the registered sex offenders in San Diego County were classified as homeless or transient, and as a result were difficult to monitor for parole compliance. Further, a report prepared with the CDCR’s assistance showed that 3003.5(b) had not improved public safety and in fact had reduced it.

The state Supreme Court found that the CDCR had engaged in “arbitrary and oppressive enforcement action” of Jessica’s Law, which had actually made the community less safe. The Court did, however, concede that the CDCR retained the authority to tailor its parole conditions for each individual parolee under its jurisdiction, “including residency restrictions that may be more or less restrictive than those found in section 3003.5(b),” provided they could show the restrictions are supported by the parolee’s “particularized circumstances.”

The California Supreme Court’s ruling affirmed an order of the Court of Appeal, 4th Appellate District. See: In re Taylor, 60 Cal. 4th 1019, 343 P.3d 867 (Cal. 2015). 

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Related legal case

In re Taylor