California judge blocks rules to crack down on sex offenders; voters overwhelming approved measure

Wednesday, November 8th 2006, 9:19 pm
By: News On 6

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- A federal judge on Wednesday blocked enforcement of key provisions of a ballot measure designed to crack down on sex offenders, ruling the law was unconstitutional just a day after voters overwhelmingly approved it.

The so-called Jessica's Law prohibits registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park, effectively banning parolees from many California communities. It also requires lifetime satellite tracking for some paroled sex criminals upon their release from prison.

More than 70 percent of voters approved the initiative Tuesday. Hours later, an unidentified sex offender filed the lawsuit, arguing that the measure should apply only to offenders who register after the law was approved.

U.S. District Judge Susan Illston ruled that the measure "is punitive by design and effect" and probably unconstitutional. She issued a temporary restraining order against the law's residency requirements, saying the plaintiff was likely to prevail. The judge also ordered a Nov. 27 hearing.

Supporters and critics of the measure had expected the residency rules to be challenged in court.

State law already limits where sex offenders can live, but the new rules would make it even harder to find homes for offenders released from prison. Most parolees currently are prohibited from living within a quarter-mile of a school, with a half-mile restriction imposed on high-risk sex offenders.

The scope of the initiative largely hinged on whether it would apply retroactively to the state's roughly 90,000 registered sex offenders.

The proposition, according to the lawsuit, effectively banishes the plaintiff "from his home and community for a crime he committed, and paid his debt for, long ago."

Nathan Barankin, a spokesman for Attorney General Bill Lockyer, said the state would defend the law.

Supporters said the initiative would save lives, but law enforcement and social workers worried that some sex offenders may simply stop reporting their addresses so they will not have to move.

The proposition is named for Jessica Lunsford, a 9-year-old Florida girl who was kidnapped, raped and killed last year by a convicted sex offender.