Court upholds parts of Jessica's Law

February 1, 2010 8:11:40 PM PST
The California Supreme Court issued a decision Monday upholding Jessica's Law (Proposition 83), overwhelmingly approved by voters to place new restrictions on sex offenders. But the fight over the measure is far from finished.

The court split 5-2 and upheld part of Jessica's Law, but sent the most serious constitutional issues back to the trial courts. They are issues we saw firsthand, talking to San Francisco's homeless sex offenders.

The I-Team spoke with a man who was convicted of rape and served his time in the 1980s, but when he left prison last April on a stolen property offense, his parole officer told him Jessica's Law now applies. Even though he was never accused of molesting children, even though his recent crime was not a sex offense, he can't live within 2,000 feet of a park or school.

"Upon my release from state prison, I was informed that I could not maintain any family relationships with my wife, my brother, my niece and nephews and I could not reside in any dwelling," he said.

So, he's homeless. In fact, all 45 sex offenders released from prison to San Francisco since Jessica's Law took effect are homeless because there are very few places to live in the city, outside 2,000 feet from a park or school.

The I-Team spoke with San Francisco parole supervisor Armel Farnsworth.

Noyes: The high rent district, the parking lot of the ball park?

Farnsworth: Yes.

Noyes: The toxic waste dump at Hunter's Point?

Farnsworth: Yes.

Noyes: Or out on the golf course?

Farnsworth: The golf course at the Olympic Country Club, yes.

This was one of the main points lawyers brought before the California Supreme Court, arguing that Jessica's Law was retroactive, punishing offenders a second time, sometimes long after they have served their sentences for a sex crime.

But in a 5-2 decision, the court disagreed, upholding Jessica's Law and concluding, "They are not being additionally punished for commission of the original sex offenses ... Rather, petitioners are being subjected to new restrictions on where they may reside while on their current parole."

"The courts stood up for what the voters asked for," said St. Sen. George Runner, R-Lancaster, author of Jessica's Law. We spoke to him at his office in the state capitol Monday. "When we crafted Jessica's Law, we tried to do it carefully so that some of the issues that they upheld dealing with retroactivity were certainly ones that they protected, so we're very pleased that today the victims won."

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, R-California, issued a statement saying, "As governor, my single greatest priority is to protect the safety and well-being of all Californians, and this ruling allows the state to continue implementing this important public safety measure."

However, it's not over. The justices sent the most weighty constitutional issues back to the lower courts in San Diego, Santa Clara County and San Francisco.

"Does this law by forcing people into homelessness violate the core constitutional rights to privacy and also for people on parole the basic right not to be subject to arbitrary, unreasonable conditions that don't advance the purpose of rehabilitation, reentry into society and public safety?" said plaintiffs' attorney Ernest Galvan.

Galvan argues that Jessica's Law has not made us safer. Since the measure took effect, the number of homeless sex offenders across the state has increased from a couple hundred to more than 5,000.

"A law that says you can't live near a school, but you can live under a bridge or in a park near a school, it doesn't make any sense and it's not promoting public safety," said Galvan. "It's not good for our children."

"If you're a victim, you're more likely to victimize somebody," said a paroled sex offender we spoke with. "So if the people who are living on the streets feel as though they've been victimized, then 95 percent chance they're going to victimize somebody else."

Runner would argue that the GPS paroled sex offenders have to wear is a big deterrent to crime.

You can read the entire decision from the California Supreme Court -- all 50 pages -- in the I-Team blog.