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Calif. Court OKs Sex Offender Arrests

  Court Watch  -   POSTED: 2007/10/16 13:09

Parole agents can continue sweeps of sex offenders living too close to schools and parks after the state Supreme Court refused to grant a broad injunction halting the arrests. The court had blocked the state from arresting four parolees who claimed the so-called Jessica's Law is too vague and unfairly punishes offenders after they are released from prison.

But in Monday's ruling, the court refused to apply that protection to hundreds of other paroled sex offenders, saying they needed to look to lower courts to get their own injunctions.

Parolees' attorneys said they are not immediately sure if they will ask a lower court for an injunction covering the affected parolees.

The state Supreme Court is considering whether the law is constitutional as it applies to the four parolees, meaning attorneys representing additional sex offenders could simply wait for a decision.

"We have to give it some time to figure what our next move is," said Don Specter, director of the San Rafael-based nonprofit Prison Law Office.

The group filed the lawsuit with another firm on behalf of the four parolees and sought the wider injunction.

Parole agents began the sweeps last week under the law, which sets strict residency requirements for recently released sex offenders to keep them away from children. About 850 parolees were in violation.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered agents to start revoking paroles despite the high court's decision to block the arrests of the four sex offenders who were violating the residency requirements.

The state corrections department could not immediately say how many offenders have been arrested since the crackdown began, spokesman Seth Unger said.

The state had said it had notified 1,800 parolees that they were in violation of the residency portion of the law, and gave them 45 days to move. As of Thursday, the state said, roughly 850 parolees were still in violation.

Jessica's Law, passed with 70 percent support from California voters last November, is named after a 9-year-old Florida girl who was kidnapped, raped and murdered by a convicted sex offender in 2005. It prohibits offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park where children regularly gather.

Critics say Jessica's Law is forcing sex offenders to become homeless or move from towns and cities into rural areas because they cannot find housing that meets the law's requirements in more populated areas.

Similar laws in Florida, Iowa and other states also have led to questions over where sex offenders can live once they finish serving their prison sentences.


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