State lawmakers are puzzling over situations such as the one in Evansville last week, where a man who pleaded guilty 10 years ago to a sex offense when he was a teen now has to move out of his house . . .
Lawmakers on Thursday looked at unforeseen situations created by restricting where registered sex offenders can reside. Certain offenders long have been prohibited from living within 1,000 feet of schools, parks or child-care centers. But a law the Legislature passed this year that took effect July 1 apparently makes that ban retroactive . . .
Whether a retroactive law can be constitutional was a question raised by Steve Johnson, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council.
"If you're a convicted sex offender ... the issue is, do you have to move effective July 1," Johnson asked lawmakers on the Sentencing Policy Study Committee. "If you have been living across from a school for 35 years, effective July 1 (2006) it's now against the law for you to reside there. Do you have to move? Does it apply retroactively?"
Because some offenders suddenly may find themselves living in a forbidden zone, Johnson suggests prosecutors allow them a grace period to relocate, before charging them.
The effect of this new law is to retroactively change the legal consequences of convicted sex offenders by forcing them to move out of their homes if they are located within 1,000 feet of a school or park or be charged with a Class D felony. Civil liberties advocates are no doubt going to argue that the law is unconstitutional as applied to these individuals retroactively as a prohibited ex post facto law.
But the problem doesn't end there. Where can these registered sex offenders move to and comply with the new law? As Fort Wayne Observed observes today in a post quoting from a Huntington Herald-Press report, in communities like Huntington, Indiana, there's virtually nowhere for them to go without moving completely out of the town:
The Huntington Herald-Press reports that a new state law that went into effect July 1st makes most of the residential areas in the City of Huntington off-limits to sex-offenders . . .
Karen Poling, an office deputy at the Huntington County Sheriff’s Department, has spent the past several weeks just combing through files, making phone calls, and informing sex offenders of the consequences of the law, which went into effect July 1. Poling couldn’t say how many sex offenders must uproot, but noted that from one of eight filing cabinets dedicated to storing sex offender information, 18 offenders were told they have to move.
“Every day, that’s just all I’ve done — I’ve been on the phone or they’ve been in the department,” Poling said. “It’s just so overwhelming. Some of these people have actually lived in their homes their whole lives, 30 or 40 years.”
Approximately 100 registered sex offenders in Huntington County. Some of them live and work here, but others may only work here.
Brent Myers of the Indiana Department of Corrections said that 54 sex offenders currently in prison will be returning to Huntington at some point in the future. Their crimes include rape or attempted rape, criminal deviate conduct, child molesting, sexual misconduct with a minor, and criminal confinement.
A couple of months ago, AI reported on a study of a proposal on California's ballot this year which showed that virtually the entire city of San Francisco would be off limits to sex offenders if the voters approved a ballot initiative making it illegal for them to live within 2,000 feet of a school or park. Rural legislators in California have expressed concerns that, if enacted, the California measure would force "hordes of sexual predators" out of urban areas and into rural areas in order to comply with the law.
If the report on Huntington is correct, sex offenders are going to have a problem finding a place they can legally live even in smaller communities like Huntington. Is the practical impact of the law going to mean that Indiana's sex offenders will have to live in the rural areas where jobs are scarce and they are highly unlikely to find gainful employment? What happens when people are faced with desparate circumstances? Have we not made matters much worse with this enactment?