New Jersey court strikes down sex offender residence laws

[JURIST] The Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey [official website] on Tuesday struck down [opinion, PDF] two municipal ordinances that prohibited convicted sex offenders (CSOs) from living near schools, parks, playgrounds and day care centers. The Appellate Division ruled that New Jersey's statewide sex offender registry program, known as Megan's Law [text; BBC backgrounder], preempted the local ordinances and provided the state and all municipalities with a uniform rehabilitation and public safety plan. The court explained:

The far-reaching scope of Megan's Law and its multilayered enforcement and monitoring mechanisms constitute a comprehensive system chosen by the Legislature to protect society from the risk of reoffense by CSOs and to provide for their rehabilitation and reintegration into the community. The system is all-encompassing regarding the activities of CSOs living in the community. We conclude that the ordinances conflict with the expressed and implied intent of the Legislature to exclusively regulate this field, as a result of which the ordinances are preempted.
The court added that the ordinances, which prohibited CSOs from living within 2500 feet of a variety of locations frequented by children, had the effect of barring CSOs from upwards of two-thirds of the towns which had enacted the ordinances, and violated provisions of Megan's Law that expressly prohibited disclosing CSO information for the purposes of denying individuals housing and accommodations. AP has more.

Courts in other states have also overturned or restricted laws seeking to limit housing options for registered sex offenders. In May, the Indiana Court of Appeals overturned [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] a 2006 state law that prohibited sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school, public park, or youth center. Last November, the Supreme Court of Georgia [official website] unanimously overturned [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] a state law that prohibited registered sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of schools, playgrounds and other areas where children gather. Civil rights groups had criticized the law [legislative materials] as overly strict, saying that the state's roughly 11,000 registered sex offenders would have been barred from living in almost any residential area. In February 2007 a federal judge ruled that California's Proposition 83 [text, PDF; JURIST news archive], which prohibited California sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of any place where children regularly gather, could not be applied retroactively [JURIST report] to more than 90,000 paroled sex offenders because there was nothing in the measure to indicate that intent.


 

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