A ruling by the state Fourth District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana on Wednesday may represent the largest crack to date in Jessica's Law, the voter initiative Prop. 83 of 2006 that forbade sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or a park. Stress fractures had been evident several months before justices even heard the case, however.
The court determined that residency restrictions imposed by Prop. 83 amount to additional punishment for sex offenders’ original crimes, overturning restrictions that had been imposed on Anaheim’s Steven Lloyd Mosley, who was convicted in 2007 of assaulting a 12-year-old girl four years earlier but acquitted of committing a lewd act. The trial judge still ruled Mosley had committed a sex crime, ordered him to register with police as a sex offender and barred him from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park.
The law remains in effect but the ruling could limit its future application, legal experts say. The U.S. Constitution forbids laws that retroactively impose criminal penalties or increase punishment for past offenses.
Prop. 83 picked up the “Jessica’s Law” nickname that had been applied to a similar Florida law enacted after a 9-year-old girl was kidnapped from her bedroom, assaulted by a predator and then buried alive. Jessica Laws have sprung up across the country ever since, and a spokeswoman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said that despite the Santa Ana ruling, “The governor strongly supports Jessica’s Law and keeping families and children safe.”
Prop. 83 increased sentences for various sex crimes and mandated parolees wear satellite tracking devices for life to ensure they are abiding by the measure’s residency restrictions, which are so broad they have essentially made San Francisco free of sex offenders convicted since the initiative passed.
Heading into the 2006 election, Register opinionista extraordinaire Steven Greenhut called Prop. 83 a “no brainer.” Pre-criminally indicted Broadcom Corp. billionaire Henry Nicholas kicked $157,000 into the pro-Prop. 83 effort—and in announcing so outlined his plans to use Broadcom’s Global Positioning System technology for future sex offender monitoring devices. The Field Poll had the measure up by 65 percentage points, which proved to be a conservative estimate. It sailed to victory with 70 percent voter approval.
But the troubles being seen now with actual implementation had been forecast by opponents, particularly the Los Angeles Times editorial board, which fretted about the cost of statewide satellite tracking. The fears proved well grounded a year after the measure passed. The Times’ Michael Rothfield reported: “Law enforcement leaders who pushed for a ballot initiative requiring sex offenders in California to be tracked by satellite for life are now saying that the sweeping surveillance program voters endorsed is not feasible and is unlikely to be fully implemented for years, if ever.”
Hours after the Santa Ana ruling was read, the legal waters had already been so muddied that Long Beach City Prosecutor Thomas Reeves revealed he will not enforce a local law that piggybacks on Jessica’s Law–an ordinance the Long Beach City Council had already watered down after its constitutionality was challenged in court.
A judge’s order to push sex offenders out to San Diego County’s backcountry has brought him the wrath of hell from denizens of those rural communities. But don’t go thinking this is all the result of activist judges in the Fruits and Nuts State: The cost for more guards, prison beds and associated housing costs created by mandatory sentences has caused legislative leaders in Colorado to re-think their Jessica’s Law.
Even if enforcement could be afforded and constitutional hurdles could be cleared, there is now evidence Prop. 83 is doing the opposite of what it was intended to do: protect children. A Sacramento TV station just reported that Jessica’s Law may actually increase the dangers sex offenders pose as they are kicked out of housing and into the streets, usually without the ballyhooed tracking devices no one can afford in these budget-crunched times.
Henry Nicholas’ promise of satellite tracking help from Broadcom apparently got lost in the haze of his own drug and stock-manipulation fraud charges. On the bright side, he may be able to design his own GPS tracking anklet.