Homeless Outside a Homeless Shelter

Hold on to your hats.

Two weeks ago, the California Supreme Court unanimously struck down a provision of Proposition 83—commonly known as Jessica’s Law—that had barred all registered sex offenders from living within 2000 feet of any school or park. The Court held the provision was unconstitutional to the extent that it applied automatically across the board to every registered parolee in San Diego County. The Court affirmed, however, the state’s right to impose residency restrictions—whether more or less stringent than Proposition 83—on individual parolees based on the particular circumstances of a case.

It’s not hard to understand why this makes sense when, depending on the map and makeup of a county, these people have nowhere to live. They may no longer be able to live with their families, in sober-living homes, or even in homeless shelters depending on the location. In San Diego, where the lawsuit was brought, Proposition 83 had effectively barred registered parolees from access to over 97 percent of the county’s available housing, and realistically, the remaining three percent was not entirely available either due to high rents, low vacancies, and the unwillingness of some landlords to rent to the parolees. Ultimately, the residency restrictions made everyone less safe by sabotaging parole: destroying people’s ability to live and work and making it more difficult to supervise them.

This was true of the four plaintiffs who brought the lawsuit, each of whom was rendered homeless by Proposition 83. Two of them had been sleeping in alleys behind the parole office at the suggestion of their parole agents (who were likely at a loss themselves about what to do). One of them had followed his parole agent’s suggestion to live in the riverbed of the San Diego River. The first was a man who was registered because of a 1991 conviction for sexual assault against an adult woman, and who had no other convictions for sex crimes and no convictions at all for crimes against children. The second was a man who was registered because of a 1989 conviction for misdemeanor sexual battery against an adult woman; he too had no other convictions for sex crimes and no convictions at all for crimes against children. The third was a woman who was registered for a 1988 conviction for committing a lewd and lascivious act on her daughter, who was under the age of 14 at the time, but had no other convictions for sex crimes or crimes against children. The fourth was a man who was registered because of a 1981 case when he was 15 years old, and a juvenile court found that he’d committed a lewd and lascivious act on his 10-year-old sister. He too had no other convictions for sex crimes or crimes against children.

After an eight-day evidentiary hearing on these issues, the trial court concluded that the residency restrictions were unconstitutional as a mandatory condition on all parolees, but they could be imposed as discretionary conditions on a case-by-case basis.

On review, the Court of Appeal and, now, the Supreme Court have agreed.

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