The California Supreme Court has spoken but what have they said? The Court published two decisions today that were expected to determine whether residency restrictions are constitutional and if so, to whom do they apply as well as whether the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) may issue a blanket residency restriction to all registered citizens in San Diego while on parole. These issues are of vital importance to more than 100,000 registered citizens and their families. Unfortunately, the Court did not meet expectations because they failed to address these vital issues in a meaningful way for all but a few.
In the first of the two decisions, People v. Mosley, the Court ducked entirely the issue of whether residency restrictions are constitutional. Instead, the Court relegated to a footnote that the issue is not yet “ripe”, that is, it is not ready for the Court to decide. How can that be? The rate of homelessness for registered citizens has tripled since passage of Jessica’s Law. And, according to the CA Sex Offender Management Board, there were more than 6,000 homeless registered citizens in 2012 and that number continues to grow.
Also in that case, the Court did briefly discuss the issue of residency restrictions and concluded that they are not an “added penalty”. Not a penalty? Tell that to the homeless registrants forced to live in their cars if they are lucky and to live on the streets if they are not. The only rays of light in this case shine from the dissenting opinion in which Justice Liu criticizes the majority of the Court for ducking this issue as well as the issue of whether residency restrictions apply to registered citizens who are not on parole. In the dissent, Justice Liu states unequivocally that residency restrictions apply to all registrants and constitute punishment.
In the second of the two decisions, In re Taylor, the Court appears to hand registrants a solid victory by boldly and correctly declaring that residency restrictions violate the Constitution. The Court bases this declaration on a finding that residency restrictions infringe upon a registrant’s liberty and privacy interests and that they constitute unreasonable, arbitrary and oppressive official action. Amazing, right? YES…..but only if you are a registered citizen on parole in San Diego and only as a blanket restriction levied by CDCR. The Court granted CDCR the authority to apply residency restrictions that are “more or less restrictive” than those found in Jessica’s Law provided that they do so on a case-by-case basis.
And what if you aren’t on parole and you don’t live in San Diego? What if you completed parole decades ago and/or live in a county, that unlike San Diego, is not densely populated? The answer to those questions will be determined in the future…..perhaps in a courtroom near you. In the meantime, how many more registered citizens will suffer as they are forced to live separately from their families and become homeless? How many more times will the Constitution be violated by Jessica’s Law, a law that is unreasonable, arbitrary, and oppressive?
Cities and counties can prevent the continuation of these violations in their jurisdictions by repealing their ordinances that include residency restrictions. Any city or county that fails to repeal such restrictions faces the possibility of a legal challenge from California RSOL or other like minded organizations.