This Article challenges prevailing judicial orthodoxy that many sex offender residency restrictions are constitutional under the federal Ex Post Facto Clause. The paper applies the analytical framework in Smith v. Doe, the Court's most recent case involving sex offender legislation. It also forges a new way of thinking about these regimes as land-use policies that "negatively" zone individuals out of the urban cores. The paper proposes an innovative "positive" zoning scheme, the Sex Offender Containment Zone, that zones high-risk convicted sex offenders back into the city and that is effective, humane, and constitutional.
At first glance, sex offender residency restrictions appear plausible because they ostensibly place a convicted sex offender's residence out of reach of children. However, these regimes address less than 10% of the very real problem of child sex abuse, as over 90% of this abuse is committed by a family member or acquaintance of the child. On the other hand, many schemes effectively banish almost 100% of convicted sex offenders to society's literal and psychic margins, condemning many low-risk offenders who pose minimal recidivist risk to a lifetime of isolation and breeding optimal conditions for high-risk offenders to re-offend. The practical implications of this policy choice, therefore, are dangerous and real, lulling the public into a veritable false sense of security.
From Sentencing Law and Policy.