Sunday, August 17, 2008

Federal lawsuit challenges Alabama sex offender registration law Birminghamnews: Federal lawsuit challenges Alabama sex offender registration law, claiming indigent sex offenders are being jailed for not being able to provide proof of residence. Sunday, August 17, 2008

A federal lawsuit is challenging the state's Community Notification Act, contending it violates the rights of poor sex offenders who have served their sentences, but are jailed because they cannot provide a valid residence.

The suit, filed in Birmingham's federal court on behalf of three named plaintiffs and similarly situated individuals, said indigent offenders have a hard time finding somewhere to live as a result of the law, which requires sex offenders to give authorities a valid address. If they don't provide an address to authorities, it's a felony. The law also places restrictions on where a sex offender can live. Under the law, a sex offender can't live within 2,000 feet of a school or child care facility.

Josh Bearden, an assistant Alabama attorney general, said there have been a number of constitutional challenges to the Community Notification Act, nationally and in Alabama.

The suit said poor offenders are penalized and jailed after they have served their original sentence if they can't provide a valid address. The suit names Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale and the sheriff's office as defendants. The suit seeks to have the process of jailing indigent sex offenders and the Community Notification Act as it relates to indigent offenders declared unconstitutional. The suit contends the sheriff's office automatically jails poor sex offenders without a hearing to determine indigence.

Hale said any convicted sex offender who does not comply with the law should be jailed. Hale said his deputies go out and check addresses to make sure they are verifiable residences. Hale said he has no sympathy for convicted sex offenders. "I'm not going to help get a sex offender a place to live," he said.

The Community Notification Act for sex offenders became law in 1996. The intent was to let law enforcement and the public know where sex offenders live because they are considered at high risk to repeat their crimes.
The lawsuit said the sex offender law, however, has the unintended effect of causing indigent sex offenders to live on the streets, under bridges, in tents or in trailers without registering because they cannot find an approved residence. "We're creating an underclass of sex offenders we will not be able to find," Fonteneau said, adding she believes the process is happening in other places