Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Judge Rejects Sex-offender Ordinance

Fosters.com (NH) : Judge rejects Dover's sex-offender ordinance.

A registered sex offender has won his legal battle against the city's sex-offender ordinance after a District Court judge ruled it unconstitutional.

The decision is specific to the Garrison City's ordinance, but an appeal to the state Supreme Court could have significant legal implications for other communities with similar ordinances.

In his ruling, District Court Judge Mark Weaver said Dover City Code, 131-20, which prohibits registered sex offenders from residing within 2,500 feet of a school or day-care center, is unconstitutional because it violates Richard Jennings' equal protection rights and doesn't accomplish its intended purpose of protecting children.

The ordinance came under challenge last year by the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, which filed a motion to dismiss the ordinance on behalf of Jennings.

As a result of the decision, the city will no longer enforce the ordinance, Police Chief Anthony Colarusso said Monday afternoon. The city has 30 days to decide whether it will appeal the decision.

In his ruling, Weaver said because the ordinance impacts the rights of certain individuals to use and enjoy property, he applied an intermediate scrutiny test, which evaluated whether the state provided evidence showing the ordinance met its objective of protecting minors.

Since the ordinance passed in 2005, police were not able to show a significant decrease in prosecutions for sex crimes against children and in one case there was an increase.

Weaver went on to say the ordinance doesn't prevent sexual offenders from being near children as it only restricts how close a sex offender may live to a school or day care center but doesn't prevent them from otherwise being near these locations. The ordinance also doesn't protect children from sex offenders living in other areas of the city, Weaver said in his ruling.

"There's a lot of misinformation and hysteria about sex offenders," she said. "People obviously care about their children and want to see them cared for but legislating out of fear is not a way to accomplish that."

"Certainly if the city was to appeal to the Supreme Court that would be a statewide ruling," he said. "We realize the implications of taking the case to the Supreme Court."