Paroled sex offenders in Los Angeles County were given a reprieve by Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza this week when the jurist issued a ruling declaring Jessica’s Law unconstitutional. Espinoza reasoned that the law, which prohibits sex offenders from residing within 2,000 feet of any public or private school or park where children gather created a hardship by restricting where they could live, forcing them to choose between homelessness and returning to prison.
Jessica’s Law was passed by 70 percent of the voters in 2006 and served as the springboard for many communities to review and strengthen their own ordinances regulating residence of sex offenders in their towns. Santa Clarita enacted an ordinance adding trails, paseos and open space within the city to the 2,000 foot radius.
Don’t miss a thing. Get breaking news alerts delivered right to your inbox
Espinoza cited experts, including LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, who claimed that a sex offender’s residence doesn’t influence whether they would commit any more crimes, he said that the law was also playing a significant part in increasing the homeless population of Los Angeles because other cities in the County had enacted ordinances that were more restrictive than those recommended by the law.
In the ruling, reference is made to the court’s receipt of more than 650 petitions claiming hardship because of the law, which leaves parolees only two options: become homeless or return to prison. In addition, the Public Defender and Alternate Public Defender are in the process of preparing hundreds of additional writs. According to the ruling, there are approximately 2,000 parolees affected by the law.
Espinoza also considers the freedom enjoyed by parolees during the day, claiming “the residency restriction would allow a convicted child molester to stroll past the school and eat ice cream in the park, as long as he or she retreats at night to housing far from a school of park. And there, the child molester may live undisturbed next door to small children.”
Jessica’s law author, Senator George Runner expressed his frustration with the judge’s ruling.
“I am extremely disappointed with this ruling,” Runner said. “The court made the wrong decision to overturn the will of the voters and allow dangerous sex offenders to live near parks and schools.
“The California Supreme Court has already upheld the constitutionality of the residency restrictions in Jessica’s Law. The vast majority of sex offenders on parole in Los Angeles County are in full compliance with these restrictions. The notion that they are being forced to choose between prison and homelessness is ridiculous.
“The best interests of convicted child rapists and other sexual predators cannot be elevated above the rights of their victims and the legitimate responsibility of the state to protect our children.”
High risk sex offenders with a current or prior conviction of Penal Code 288, including of all subsections will continue to be prohibited from residing within one-half mile from any public or private school serving grades K-12. Alternate residence restrictions may be imposed, if supported by circumstances found in the parolee’s criminal history.
Supervision with GPS monitoring shall still apply to all registered sex offenders residing in the County. Local ordinances are still enforceable. The duration of Espinoza’s order is unknown.