Friday, September 25, 2009

Ala. Judge Strikes Down Part of Sex Offender Law : Alabama's sex offender laws challenged.

A Montgomery circuit judge has struck down a portion of the state's sex offender law, saying that a provision that requires indigent offenders to provide a verifiable address as a condition of their release is unconstitutional.

Several homeless sex offenders sought to have the Class C felonies that they were charged with for not complying with the law dismissed citing that the provision violated their rights.

Under Alabama's Community Notification Act, incarcerated sex offenders must provide law enforcement officials a verifiable address where they will live 45 days prior to their release. Failure to comply with that provision is a Class C felony, and the sex offender is immediately taken to county jail upon release. The offender could face 15 years to life in prison if convicted because of the state's Habitual Offender Act, according to briefs filed on behalf of the homeless defendants.

Lawyers for the defendants in the cases argued successfully that they were being punished for not complying with a law that was physically impossible to abide by, and that they were essentially being re-imprisoned after they had served their sentences.

Attorney General Troy King said he is appealing the rulings because an "actual address," which the law requires, can be anything from a homeless shelter to a park bench. "We have argued in these briefs that homeless sex offenders can comply," he said. "You don't have to live at a house with a street address to comply. The law is broad enough that if you live in a park you can use that as an address."

That's as long as that park isn't within 2,000 feet of a child-care facility, a K-12 school, or a college or university campus. During the 2009 legislative session, lawmakers approved adding college and university campuses to the list of places in Alabama that sex offenders couldn't live near.

Birmingham attorney David Gespass said that many of the existing laws are based on emotion and not reality. He said cases such as that of Jaycee Dugard, who was abducted by a registered sex offender and held for 18 years, grab headlines but the truth of the matter is those cases are quite rare.
Gespass says legislators and politicians often push for such laws so they can appear tough on crime, but whether the population at large is any safer is debatable.

He said the state would be better served by identifying which offenders are truly dangerous and monitoring those individuals more closely.

Tuscaloosa County Public Defender Bobby Wooldridge said people don't want to hear it, but there are some basic rights that even sex offenders have that can't be violated, and he expects there to be more legal challenges in the future.

King said when his office started pursuing tougher restrictions and penalties for sex offenders, it knew there would be legal challenges.