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Federal Court Says Illinois Statute Barring More Than One Sex Offender per Address Is Unconstitutional

by Matt Clarke

On July 11, 2022, the federal court for the Northern District of Illinois enjoined the state Department of Corrections (DOC) from keeping 25 sex offenders imprisoned who were eligible for mandatory supervision release (MSR) but whose new housing violated a state law that bars more than one sex offender from living at an address.

It was the 48th such injunction that the Court has issued since ruling that DOC violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment equal-protection rights of a class of some 1,200 state prisoners by holding them beyond their MSR dates because of failure to find a “host site” not in violation of the law, 730 ILCS 5/3-3-7(a)(6).

In the Court’s original ruling issued on March 26, 2021, it recalled that “[t]he One-Per-Address Statute precludes convicted sex offenders on MSR from living ‘at the same address or in the same condominium unit or apartment unit in the same condominium complex or apartment complex with another person he or she knows or reasonably should know is a convicted sex offender or has been placed on supervision for a sex offense[.]”

Since DOC assigns and approves MSR residential locations, it must comply with the statute. Until April 7, 2020, the agency interpreted the statute to prohibit sex offenders on MSR from living in the same trailer park or adjacent apartment buildings. But on that date, the Court recalled, it issued an injunction in a related class-action lawsuit, Murphy v. Raoul, which was brought by a narrower class of plaintiffs with whom it had agreed over a year before, on March 21, 2019, that the statute was unconstitutional as applied to them, in a decision that also found they had “a protectable liberty interest in MSR and awarded the class summary judgment on their Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment claims.” [See: PLN, June 2019, p.61.]

With the assistance of Chicago attorneys Adele D. Nicholas and Mark G. Weinberg, lead plaintiff Marcus Barnes filed this class-action lawsuit along with the other named plaintiffs also represented by Nicholas: Mark Faller, Jonathan Sparks, Paul Hubbard, David Easton, Kenneth Green, Wade Council, John Margarella, Fredrick Chamblis, Kenneth Schroeder, Joshua Atkins, Columbo Galdino, Christopher Shelton, Dana Monson, Andra Sampson, Corey Crowe, and Joshua Hudeleston. All of them, like Barnes, were incarcerated beyond their MSR release dates, some up to ten years, and they challenged the statute and its effect of keeping them incarcerated beyond their MSR dates because their proposed new home was in the same unit or dwelling as another sex offender.

As part of their suit, Plaintiffs presented evidence that a number of organizations helping to house released sex offenders had locations available which DOC refused to approve due to restrictions in the statute. These included NewDay Apartments, Wayside Cross Ministries, Abundant Faith Ministries, and New Beginnings Recovery Homes. Some plaintiffs also had their own locations available which DOC refused to approve for a variety of reasons related to the statute, such as a resident family member with a prior sex offense conviction.

The Court also took note of a Minnesota DOC study, which showed no negative effects from sex offenders living “in close proximity to one another.” Instead, the study found “a handful of benefits,” including less travel for supervisors, making more visits possible and permitting closer supervision, as well as the fact that supervised sex offenders “tended to inform on one another for restriction violations or crimes.”

The Court held that the application of the statute by DOC Director Rob Jeffreys to retain plaintiffs in prison beyond their MSR date violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. It also held that a Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process claim duplicated the Eighth Amendment claim, but it said that Jeffreys did violate plaintiff’s Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights by discriminating against MSR-eligible prisoners who were too poor to afford a home that complied with the statute.

Thus, holding the statute was unconstitutional as applied to the class, the Court granted Plaintiffs summary judgment on their Eighth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claims. See: Barnes v. Jeffreys, 529 F.Supp. 3d 784 (N.D. Ill. 2021).

In the series of injunctions issued since then, the Court has repeatedly noted that class members in their proposed housing locations “would be residing in the same building as another person who has been convicted of a sex offense,” so DOC was forced to reject the applications “because of its obligation to follow 730 ILCS 5/3-3-7(a)(7.6).”

Yet the Court has also repeated that “there has been no legitimate public interest articulated in only having one registrant live at an address.” So it has therefore found “that the statute is unconstitutional as it applies to the individuals identified … and Defendant is enjoined from enforcing the ‘One Person Per Address’ provision … as to these individuals.”

Release of the identified class members also “is subject to the approval of the host, program operator, or landlord at each housing location … and subject to the proposed housing locations otherwise being approved by [DOC] as meeting all requirements and satisfying applicable provisions of Illinois law,” the Court concluded. See: Barnes v. Jeffreys, USDC (N.D. Ill.), Case No. 1:20-cv-02137. 

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Related legal case

Barnes v. Jeffreys