Criminal Justice Resources: Sex Offender Residency Restrictions

There are laws in more than 20 states and hundreds of communities limiting or proscribing where convicted sex offenders may live and work. See Lawsuits Test Crackdown On Sex Criminals, Stateline.org, April 18, 2008; Sex-Offender Residency Laws Get Second Look, USA Today, Feb. 26, 2007. These residency zones or exclusions are frequently imposed in conditions of probation and parole or as a facet of registration laws. They raise constitutional issues in addition to the practical problems created by shutting off access to family members, affordable housing, employment, therapeutic treatment and public services.

This article collects recent court decisions, research papers and reports that have addressed the efficacy of exclusionary zoning laws and the impact of these restrictions on sex offenders reentering their communities. For additional resources on Megan's Law and the Adam Walsh Act, see generally Ken Strutin, Sex Offender Laws, LLRX, Sept. 28, 2007; and Sex Offender Resources (NACDL).

Case Law

Restrictions have been challenged on a variety of constitutional grounds, such as substantive due process, equal protection, right to travel, ex post facto, bill of attainder (e.g., banishment), and taking of property. See Anti-Sex-Offender Zoning Laws Challenged, Stateline.org, Dec. 9, 2006. Recent appellate decisions show how these laws fare in the gristmill of constitutional analysis, and offer insight into possible paths to Supreme Court resolution. See Exactly When And How Will Scotus Confront Sex Offender Residency Restrictions?, Sentencing Law and Policy Blog, May 14, 2008.

  • Georgia: Mann v. Dept. Of Corrections, 282 Ga. 754, 653 S.E.2d 740 (2007)
    "Although we earlier determined appellant's property interest in his rent-free residence at his parents' home to be 'minimal,' Mann, supra, 278 Ga. at 443 (2), we find appellant's property interest in the Hibiscus Court residence he purchased with his wife to be significant. As a registered sex offender, the locations where appellant may reside are severely restricted by OCGA § 42-1-15 (a); as recognized by other states, those locations may also be subject to private limitations, see Mulligan v. Panther Valley Prop. Owners Assn., 766 A2d 1186 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2001) (discussing homeowner association covenants prohibiting sale of property to sex offenders), and we note that HN5 nothing in OCGA § 42-1-12 et seq. expressly precludes Georgia cities and counties from enacting additional restrictions. See Wernick, In Accordance with a Public Outcry: Zoning Out Sex Offenders Through Residence Restrictions in Florida, 58 Fla. L. Rev. 1147, 1163-1164 (2006) (discussing ordinances enacted by local governments in Florida that have expanded state statutory buffer zones). Nevertheless, appellant and his wife were able to find and purchase a house that complied with the residency restriction in OCGA § 42-1-15. The evidence is uncontroverted that the Hibiscus Court property was purchased for the sole purpose of serving as their home. OCGA § 42-1-15, by prohibiting appellant from residing at the Hibiscus Court house, thus utterly impairs appellant's use of his property as the home he shares with his wife."
  • Illinois: People v. Morgan, 377 Ill. App. 3d 821, 881 N.E.2d 507, 317 Ill. Dec. 339 (Ill. App. Ct. 3d Dist. 2007)
    "Defendant, [a convicted sex offender] . . . , was convicted following a jury trial of knowingly residing within 500 feet of a school building that persons under the age of 18 attended (720 ILCS 5/11-9.3(b-5) (West 2006). Defendant was sentenced to 30 months' probation and fined. Defendant appeals his conviction and fines. We affirm in part and vacate and remand in part. Turning to the subsection at issue in the instant case, we adopt the reasoning and analysis employed by the Fifth District in Leroy and apply it to the subsection under consideration before us. In doing so, we find that the law is constitutional. We conclude that, in accordance with the analysis employed by the court in Leroy, section 11-9.3(b-5) does not constitute an impermissible ex post facto law. Therefore, defendant's argument must fail."
  • Indiana: State v. Pollard, No. 05A02-0707-CR-640 (Ind. Ct. App. May 13, 2008)
    "For all of these reasons, we hold that Indiana Code section 35-42-4-11, otherwise known as the residency statute, is an ex post facto law as applied to a person in Pollard’s circumstances. The residency statute is a criminal statute that criminalizes residency because of the resident’s status as a sex offender. In addition, the statute’s effect is punitive because it is applied retroactively to sex offenders who established ownership and property rights in a residence prior to the effective date of the statute, and because it forces them to relinquish some or all of their ownership rights or face a felony charge. Perhaps most importantly, Indiana’s residency statute does not exempt ownership established prior to the statute, provide a constitutional taking procedure, or exempt ownership impacted by later construction of a protected facility or area."
  • Iowa: Wright v. Iowa Dept Of Corrections, No. 01 / 06–0863 (Iowa April 11, 2008)
    "Floyd Wright, who was convicted of a sexual offense against a minor in 1977, challenges the district court's ruling that he was subject to the residency restrictions of Iowa Code section 692A.2A (2005), which prohibits sex offenders from residing within two thousand feet of certain facilities such as schools. Wright contends that he is not subject to the statute because he was not a "registered" sex offender. Even if the statute were applicable, Wright contends it would violate his equal protection and substantive due process rights and would be invalid as a bill of attainder. The district court rejected his arguments, and so do we."
  • Missouri: R.L. v. Missouri Department Of Corrections, 245 S.W.3d 236 (Mo. 2008)
    "The same long-standing principles applied in Phillips apply in this case. As with the registration requirements in Phillips, the residency restrictions at issue in this case impose a new obligation upon R.L. and those similarly situated by requiring them to change their place of residence based solely upon offenses committed prior to enactment of the statute. Attaching new obligations to past conduct in this manner violates the bar on retrospective laws set forth in article I, section 13."
  • Ohio: City of Middleburg Heights v. Brownlee, 2008 Ohio 2036, 2008 Ohio App. LEXIS 1739 (Ohio Ct. App., Cuyahoga County May 1, 2008)
    "Defendant John F. Brownlee, Jr. (appellant) appeals the court's granting an injunction prohibiting him from residing within 1,000 feet of a school. After reviewing the facts of the case and pertinent law, we reverse the court's ruling and order the injunction vacated. In the instant case, appellant bought his home in 1972; he committed the offensive acts in February and March 2003; and the statute's effective date is July 31, 2003. Accordingly, the court erred when it applied R.C. 2950.031 to appellant, and his first assignment of error is sustained."
  • Ohio: Hyle v. Porter, 117 Ohio St. 3d 165, 2008 Ohio 542, 882 N.E.2d 899 (2008)
    "We hold that HN1R.C. 2950.031 does not apply to an offender who bought his home and committed his offense before the effective date of the statute. The judgment of the First District Court of Appeals is reversed."
  • United States:Validity Of Statutes Imposing Residency Restrictions On Registered Sex Offenders, 25 ALR6th 227
    "In recent years, a number of state or local statutes imposing residency restrictions on registered sex offenders have been enacted. In Doe v. Miller, 405 F.3d 700, 25 A.L.R.6th 695 (8th Cir. 2005), cert. denied, 126 S. Ct. 757, 163 L. Ed. 2d 574 (U.S. 2005) (applying Iowa law), the court of appeals held that an Iowa statute that prohibited persons who had committed a criminal sex offense against a minor from residing within 2,000 feet of a school or child care facility, did not violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, was not retroactive criminal punishment in violation of the Ex Post Facto Clause, did not interfere with the right of sex offenders to travel, and did not violate the right against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment. This annotation collects and summarizes those cases in which the courts have determined the validity of state or local statutes imposing residency restrictions on registered sex offenders."

Articles

Scholars and researchers have examined the effectiveness of residency restrictions on sex offender behavior and its lawfulness as punishment.

  • Banishment By A Thousand Laws: Residency Restrictions On Sex Offenders, 85 Wash. U. L. Rev. 101 (2007)
    "Across America, states, localities, and private communities are debating and implementing laws to limit the places of residence of convicted sex offenders. Nineteen states and hundreds, if not thousands, of local communities have adopted statutes which severely limit the places where a sex offender may legally live. In this article, I trace these new laws to historical practices of banishment in Western societies. I argue that the establishment of exclusion zones by states and localities is a form of banishment that I have termed 'internal exile.' Establishing the connection to banishment punishments helps to explain the unique legal, policy, and ethical problems these laws create for America. Ultimately, residency restrictions could fundamentally alter basic principles of the American criminal justice system. While those supporting these laws have the interests of children at heart, the policies they are promoting will be worse for children and society."
  • Constitutional Collectivism And Ex-Offender Residence Exclusion Zones, 92 Iowa L. Rev. 1 (2006)
    "The US has often been imperiled by the competing interests of individual states, and while past threats have most frequently assumed economic or political form, this article addresses a different threat: state efforts to limit where ex-offenders (those convicted of sex crimes in particular) can live. The laws have thus far withstood constitutional challenge, with courts deferring to the police power of states. This deference, however, ignores the negative externalities created when states jettison their human dross, and defies Justice Cardozo's oft-repeated constitutional tenet that "the peoples of the several states must sink or swim together." The article discusses the continued need for this tenet in the face of state expulsionist tendencies and invokes in support the Court's decisions invalidating state laws barring entry of the poor and solid waste. In both instances, the Court, while acknowledging the exigencies motivating states, invalidated the laws because they betrayed the national imperative of dealing with challenges faced by all states. As the article establishes, a kindred understanding and resolve is now necessary as states seek to isolate themselves from the shared national responsibility of offender reentry."
  • Controlling Sex Offender Reentry: Jessica's Law Measures In California (SSRN 2006)
    "This paper examines current research on the effectiveness of electronic monitoring and residential restrictions in preventing recidivism amongst sex offenders in California, as well as the experiences of other states that have experimented with these techniques. The paper focuses on four questions: 1) What are the trends in California sex offense data and other states with sizable sex offender populations? 2) What does research and other state experiences tell us about the effectiveness of electronic monitoring in preventing recidivism and absconding of sex offenders? 3) What does research and other state experiences tell us about the effectiveness of residential restrictions in preventing recidivism of sex offenders? 4) In light of California's sex offender population, and CDCR's current methods for supervising paroled sex offenders, what challenges would CDCR and other state agencies likely face in implementing expanded electronic monitoring and residential restrictions?"
  • Does Residential Proximity Matter? A Geographic Analysis Of Sex Offense Recidivism, 35 Crim. Just. & Behavior 484 (2008)
    "In an effort to reduce sex offense recidivism, local and state governments have recently passed legislation prohibiting sex offenders from living within a certain distance (500 to 2,500 feet) of child congregation locations such as schools, parks, and daycare centers. Examining the potential deterrent effects of a residency restrictions law in Minnesota, this study analyzed the offense patterns of every sex offender released from Minnesota correctional facilities between 1990 and 2002 who was reincarcerated for a new sex offense prior to 2006. Given that not one of the 224 sex offenses would have likely been prevented by residency restrictions, the findings from this study provide little support for the notion that such restrictions would significantly reduce sexual recidivism."
  • Has Georgia Gone Too Far-Or Will Sex Offenders Have To?, 35 Hastings Const. L.Q. 309 (2008) $
    "Given the wide range of issues that were presented by Georgia's latest sex offender residency restriction, this note will discuss how Georgia's new residency restriction statute, as originally written, violated (1) the Ex Post Facto Clause, (2) the Eighth Amendment, (3) Procedural Due Process under the Fourteenth Amendment, and (4) the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Lastly, the note will analyze potential issues under the Dormant Commerce Clause and other policy considerations to argue that, in practice, the use of such harsh residency restrictions might make for a more dangerous situation for children, sex offenders, and the rest of society."
  • How To Stop A Predator The Rush To Enact Mandatory Sex Offender Residency Restrictions And Why States Should Abstain 86 Or. L. Rev. 219 (2007) "A new trend in state legislation emerged as twenty-two states entered legally unsettled waters by enacting various residency restrictions for convicted sex offenders. Legislators tout the need for such residency restrictions to reduce child sex offenders' opportunities for contact with potential victims. However, courts disagree whether these new laws are constitutional, and research increasingly questions their utility. This Comment will first look at the primary legal questions facing the courts, examining various legal challenges to state residency restrictions and the limited research surrounding the efficacy of such restrictions. Next, this Comment will address the 2006 California ballot measure Proposition 83, which serves as a practical case study of these new restrictions and their unsettled legal ramifications. Finally, this Comment will examine Oregon's nonmandatory residency restriction and explain why it serves as the best model for achieving the goals of protecting our children, monitoring the sex offender population, and withstanding judicial review. Ultimately, this Comment will attempt to show that research on mandatory residency restrictions may affect the way future courts rule on these restrictions. This Comment will also attempt to persuade those presently in favor of mandatory residency restrictions that more flexible, nonmandatory restrictions will increase the likelihood of achieving their stated objectives."
  • In The Zone: Sex Offenders And The Ten Percent Solutions (SSRN 2008)
    "This Article challenges prevailing judicial orthodoxy that many sex offender residency restrictions are constitutional under the federal Ex Post Facto Clause. The paper applies the analytical framework in Smith v. Doe, the Court's most recent case involving sex offender legislation. It also forges a new way of thinking about these regimes as land-use policies that "negatively" zone individuals out of the urban cores. The paper proposes an innovative "positive" zoning scheme, the Sex Offender Containment Zone, that zones high-risk convicted sex offenders back into the city and that is effective, humane, and constitutional."
  • Irregular Passion: The Unconstitutionality And Inefficacy Of Sex Offender Residency Laws, 102 Nw. U. L. Rev. 307 (2008)
    "The Comment concludes that non-tailored residency laws are unconstitutional. These same laws are also unwise and ineffective in terms of their stated goals, rendering them poor policy decisions. Given their ineffectiveness and the threat they pose to fundamental rights, this Part argues that it is important that courts assess the laws rigorously and without bias, particularly because the political outlash against sex offenders is immense, irrational, and hard for legislators to reverse. Until courts correctly deem these non-tailored residency laws unconstitutional, both the rights of sex offenders and the safety of their potential victims will be at risk due to the crippling political outrage surrounding the issue."
  • Never Going Home: Does It Make Us Safer? Does It Make Sense? Sex Offenders, Residency Restrictions And Reforming Risk Management Law, 97 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 317 (2006)
    "One of the most hotly debated issues in criminal law today is how to manage the perceived risk of sex offenders loose in the community. Beyond mandatory registration and community notification, over a dozen states, including Illinois, have enacted residency restrictions that forbid sex offenders from living within a certain distance of schools, parks, day care centers, or even "places where children normally congregate." This Comment scrutinizes these laws to see if they make sense, and more importantly, if they make us safer. The answer to both questions appears to be no. After detailing the statistical, political, and constitutional problems that render these restrictions ineffective and unconstitutional, I shift my attention to envisioning a better system of risk management. I end by critically examining best practice methods of states across the country that more effectively allocate finite resources to identify and control high risk offenders to prevent them from harming again, while allowing the vast majority of offenders who are low risk to better re-integrate into and become productive members of society."
  • Off To Elba: The Legitimacy Of Sex Offender Residence And Employment Restrictions, 40 Akron L. Rev. 339 (2007)
    "This article will look at why sex offenders are treated differently than other criminal offenders. Sex offenders are subject to sanctions and prohibitions above and beyond what other criminal offenders must face. Next, the article will look at some of the residence and employment restrictions placed on sex offenders to determine if they are rationally related to any legitimate government interest without overbearing the sex offender's constitutional rights. Finally, the article will offer an alternate means of sex offense prevention that encourages sex offender assimilation back into society instead of further exclusion."
  • Reentry And Reintegration: Challenges Faced By The Families Of Convicted Sex Offenders, 20 Fed. Sent. R. 88 (2007) $
    "Our article will focus on the adult family members of convicted sex offenders and the many challenges they face in reuniting with their loved ones post-incarceration. We will explore the general knowledge on families of prisoners and incorporate preliminary findings from our ongoing research on the experiences and needs of families of convicted adult, male sex offenders."
  • Sex Offender Re-Entry: A Summary And Policy Recommendation On The Current State Of The Law In California And How To 'Safely' Re-Introduce Sex Offenders Into Our Communities (SSRN 2006)
    "This paper attempts to provide a comprehensive review of the current and pending sex offender legislation in California, examine their effectiveness or ineffectiveness and any possible loopholes, and conclude with a broad recommendation on where the state of California's law and policies surrounding the safe release and supervision of sex offenders into the community should be heading. In doing so, the paper will rely on current statistics on sex offenders in California, policy recommendations by various organizations on this topic, media profiles and case histories of recent real-life sex crimes, and actual data from the California online sex offender registry to discover the profile of the "real" sex offender in California. This paper will also examine the roll of public outcry and moral panic in the implementation of these laws and the effect this may have had on their specific provisions and eventual effectiveness in order to provide a more comprehensive review of the impetus behind such regulations and hopefully to inform future legislation of the lessons of the past."
  • Sex Offender Residence Restrictions: Sensible Crime Policy Or Flawed Logic?, 71 Fed. Prob. 2 (Dec. 2007)
    "Although 22 States now have laws that restrict where sex offenders can live, with 1,000 to 2,500-foot exclusionary zones being most common, research on the effects of sex-offender residence restrictions is limited. Only one study (Minnesota Department of Corrections, 2007) has specifically examined the relationship between residence restrictions and reoffending. That study was prospective, because no such law was in place where the study was conducted (Minnesota). There is a growing body of evidence, however, that residence restrictions have unintended consequences for sex offenders and communities. These adverse effects include homelessness for sex offenders; transience; lack of accessibility to social support, employment, and rehabilitative services; registry invalidity; and the clustering of sex offenders in poor, rural, or socially disorganized neighborhoods. Residence laws are often based on erroneous assumptions about sex-offender high reoffending rates and the belief that most sex offenders target strangers for victimization. In addition, they are rarely coupled with the administration of proven risk-assessment instruments and procedures. In the absence of evidence that residence restrictions are effective in achieving their intended goal of improved community safety, their unintended adverse effects may outweigh their benefits. It is crucial that research be conducted to determine whether residence restriction laws are effective."

Reports

State legislatures and government bureaus along with civil rights and other interested groups have published reports on the outcomes of residence and employment restrictions for sex offenders.

  • IX. Residency Restriction Laws in No Easy Answers: Sex Offender Laws In The U.S. (Human Rights Watch 2007)
    "The inability of convicted sex offenders to find housing when they are released from prison has become a significant barrier to their successful reintegration into society. This is particularly problematic for registrants who have limited resources, or for those who because of work, community, or family obligations want to live in particular locations. Residency restrictions prevent offenders from living in the areas closest to jobs and public transit, since schools, daycare centers, and parks are often built in the center of main residential areas of cities and towns."
  • Impact Of Residency Restrictions On Sex Offenders And Correctional Management Practices: A Literature Review (California Research Bureau 2006)
    "Today some communities in the United States banish sex offenders from living in their midst, resulting in a difficult dilemma: where can these offenders live, and where can they best be supervised and receive treatment, if available? This report describes local ordinances and state statutes restricting where a sex offender may reside, discusses what research has found so far about the success of these restrictions, considers the impact that these restrictions are having on criminal justice management practices and sex offender treatment regimens, and examines constitutional implications."
  • Residential Proximity & Sex Offense Recidivism in Minnesota (Minnesota Department of Corrections 2007)
    "In an effort to curb the incidence of sexual recidivism, state and local governments across the country have passed residency restriction laws. Designed to enhance public safety by protecting children, residency restrictions prohibit sex offenders and, in particular, child molesters from living within a certain distance (500 to 2,500 feet) of a school, park, playground or other location where children are known to congregate. Given that existing research has yet to fully investigate whether housing restrictions reduce sexual recidivism, the present study examines the potential deterrent effect of residency restrictions by analyzing the sexual reoffense patterns of the 224 recidivists released between 1990 and 2002 who were reincarcerated for a sex crime prior to 2006." See also Sex Offender Recidivism in Minnesota (Minnesota Department of Corrections 2007).
  • Sex Offender Residence Restrictions (Report to the Florida Legislature 2005)
    "Sexual violence is a serious social problem and policy-makers continue to wrestle with how to best address the public's concerns about sex offenders. Recent initiatives have included social policies that are designed to prevent sexual abuse by restricting where convicted sex offenders can live, often called "sex offender zoning laws," or "exclusionary zones." As these social policies become more popular, lawmakers and citizens should question whether such policies are evidence-based in their development and implementation, and whether such policies are cost-efficient and effective in reaching their stated goals."
  • Statement On Sex Offender Residency Restrictions In Iowa (ICAA 2006)
    "The Iowa County Attorneys Association believes that the 2,000 foot residency restriction for persons who have been convicted of sex offenses involving minors does not provide the protection that was originally intended and that the cost of enforcing the requirement and the unintended effects on families of offenders warrant replacing the restriction with more effective protective measures."