California Supreme Court allows arrests of paroled sex offenders
SACRAMENTO (AP) — Parole agents can continue their sweeps of sex offenders who live too close to schools and parks after the state Supreme Court on Monday refused to grant a broad injunction seeking to halt the arrests.
The court previously blocked the state from arresting four parolees who claimed the law is too vague and unfairly punishes offenders after they are released from prison. But in Monday’s ruling, the high court refused to expand that ruling and apply it to hundreds of other paroled sex offenders.
The request to block all arrests “is denied without prejudice to the filing of an action for declaratory and injunctive relief in an appropriate superior court,” the court said in a one-paragraph order without elaborating.
Parolees’ attorneys said they are not immediately sure if they will ask a lower court for that injunction. The Supreme Court is considering whether Jessica’s Law is constitutional as it applies to the four parolees, meaning attorneys representing additional sex offenders could simply wait for a decision.
“We have to give it some time to figure what our next move is,” said Don Specter, director of the nonprofit Prison Law Office, based in San Rafael.
Parole agents began the sweeps last week under the year-old law, which sets strict residency requirements for recently released sex offenders to keep them away from children. About 850 parolees were in violation.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered agents to start revoking paroles last week, despite the high court’s decision to block the arrests of the four sex offenders who were violating the residency requirements.
“My administration will continue to do all we can to implement, enforce and fight challenges to Jessica’s Law, which the voters overwhelmingly approved to protect our children and families from sexual predators,” the governor said in a statement after Monday’s Supreme Court decision.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation could not immediately say how many offenders have been arrested since the crackdown began, spokesman Seth Unger said.
Jessica’s Law, passed with 70 percent support from California voters last November, is named after a 9-year-old Florida girl who was kidnapped, raped and murdered by a convicted sex offender in 2005. It prohibits offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park where children regularly gather.
Supporters went to voters last year after they were unable to get versions passed by the state Legislature. They were prompted by outrage over the housing of sex offenders in hotels near Disneyland and within a half-mile of schools, in violation of an earlier law.
Critics say Jessica’s Law is forcing sex offenders to become homeless or move from towns and cities into rural areas because they cannot find housing that meets the law’s requirements in more populated areas.
Similar laws in Florida, Iowa and other states also have led to questions over where sex offenders can live once they finish serving their prison sentences.
Sending violators back to prison also could add to severe crowding just as federal judges begin considering limiting the inmate population or releasing some prisoners before they have served their full sentences.