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Jessica's Law Blocked by Calif. Judge

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By Laura Strachan, Esq. on November 05, 2010 1:16 PM

Jessica's Law is the informal name given to a 2005 Florida law, as well as laws in several other states, which restricts how close a sex offender can live to parks and schools. The law has recently been blocked by a California judge out of concern that many offenders are "becoming homeless or are forced to go to prison because the law gives them few housing options."

The 10-page ruling by Judge Peter Espinoza is not permanent, but rather a temporary solution while the courts sort through a sea of lawsuits filed on behalf of sex offender parolees, according to the Associated Press. Jessica's Law has been seen as a harsh expansion of sex offender residency requirements because it includes any convicted sex offender, not just those who committed an offense against a child.

"The evidence presented suggests that despite lay belief, a sex offender parolee's residential proximity to a school or park where children regularly gather does not bear on the parolee's likelihood to commit a sex offense against a child," Judge Espinoza wrote in the opinion. Those strong words go against many of the reasons behind creating residency restrictions surrounding areas where children gather.

Jessica's Law is named after 9-year-old Florida girl Jessica Lunsford, who was raped and murdered by a convicted sex offender.

Residency restriction laws are an attempt by a state or county to curb potential future actions by a convicted sex offender. In addition to residency restrictions, there are also community notifications designed to put neighbors on notice of a sex offender on their block. The debate on sex offender residency restrictions straddles the line between crime prevention and public safety and excessive punishment. Jessica's Law strongly favors the public safety approach but may need to find some type of balance in allowing a parolee to reform and re-enter society.

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