Sunday, March 9, 2008

Irregular Passion: The Unconstitutionality and Inefficacy of Sex Offender Residency Laws

Thanks to this post at CO, I see a new note on sex offender residency restrictions from the Northwestern University Law Review. This piece — Sarah E. Agudo, Irregular Passion: The Unconstitutionality and Inefficacy of Sex Offender Residency Laws, 102 Nw. U. L. Rev. 307 (2008) (available here) — has these passages in its introduction:

Sex offenders are among the most hated members of our society.... In recent years, laws protecting society from these offenders have grown increasingly broad; the restrictions have become more severe and applicable to more people. Residency laws, which dictate where sex offenders can live upon release from prison or while on parole, exemplify this trend. Twenty-two states in the United States currently have some form of residency law that restricts where sex offenders can live. For example, many states prohibit sex offenders from living within 1000–2500 feet of schools, bus stops, or daycare centers....

It is likely that these recent expansions of sex offender legislation and the ensuing litigation over their constitutionality will prompt a Supreme Court decision establishing the limit on states’ control over their released offenders.

Research on the effectiveness of residency laws is scarce. However, a few studies suggest that residency restrictions have no impact on sex offense recidivism.... Protecting the public from sex offenders is unquestionably important, but states should not sacrifice civil liberties in favor of unproven methods of control. Reasonable and constitutionally acceptable residency laws may well exist.

The aim of this Comment is not to call for the abolition of all residency laws, but rather to promote a cogent dialogue regarding the upper bounds of their effectiveness and constitutionality in order to provide a framework for future legislation. Although, in many areas of law, democratic processes can adequately safeguard those bounds, the public outrage against sex offenders threatens to chill the usual political protections and justifies careful judicial oversight.

From Sentencing Law and Policy.


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