Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Massachusetts Supreme Court strikes down sex offender residency restrictions

In Massachusetts, cities and towns cannot ban sex offenders from living near parks and schools, the state’s high court in ruled, according to the Boston Globe.  The sharply worded ruling could invalidate local laws in 49 municipalities across the state.
The Supreme Judicial Court’s unanimous decision likened the restrictions to two dark chapters in American history: the forcible removal of Indian tribes in the 19th century and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
“Except for the incarceration of persons under the criminal law and the civil commitment of mentally ill or dangerous persons, the days are long since past when whole communities of persons, such as Native Americans and Japanese-Americans, may be lawfully banished from our midst,” Justice Geraldine S. Hines wrote.
Local officials who supported the restrictions decried the ruling and vowed to lobby Governor Charlie Baker and the state Legislature to pass statewide residency rules.
“It seems like the rights of children are taking a back seat to what is politically correct,” said Timothy Phelan, a former Lynn City Council president who sponsored the 2011 ordinance that the court struck down.
In recent years, state and local officials across the country have restricted where sex offenders can live, hoping to keep them away from children. The dominant view is that such rules, if applied statewide, are legal, said Daniel M. Filler, a Drexel University law professor. The problem, he said, has been with cities and towns passing a patchwork of local laws that simply force sex offenders to move to the next town.
“States have increasingly recognized that this is a problem that can only be solved at the state level because, if left to municipalities, it just becomes a game of one town after another putting up walls in their own jurisdiction,” Filler said.
In February, the New York State Court of Appeals threw out a Nassau County law that prevented sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school, ruling that such local measures were preempted by a state law restricting residency for sex offenders.
In March, California’s Supreme Court struck down a portion of that state’s law that banned sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park where children gather. The court found that such restrictions would have to be imposed on a case-by-case basis, not as a blanket policy.
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