11th Cir. Revives Sexual Predators’ Housing Claim

     (CN) — The 11th Circuit on Monday revived two sexual offenders’ challenges to residency restrictions in Miami-Dade County.
     In 2005, the county adopted the Lauren Book Child Safety Ordinance, which restricts sexual offenders and sexual predators from establishing temporary or permanent residence in areas where children regularly congregate, such as schools, parks and child care facilities.
     Three Doe sexual offenders and the Florida Action Committee, a non-profit that advocates on behalf of sex offenders and their families, challenged a part of the ordinance that states any person who has been convicted of a sexual offense that involves a victim under the age of 16 years old is not allowed to reside within 2,500 feet of any school.
     The distance is measured in a straight line rather than by an automobile or pedestrian route.
     Miami-Dade County, the state Department of Corrections, and Sunny Ukenye, circuit administrator for the Miami Circuit Office and the corrections department convinced a federal judge to dismiss the claim against them.
     The plaintiffs then turned to the 11th Circuit, where they argued the residency restriction is so punitive it violates the federal and Florida constitution ex post facto clauses since it makes large strips of housing unavailable to them.
     Two of the three Doe plaintiffs had qualifying sexual offenses before the enactment of the ordinance, which has now been retroactively applied to them.
     They contend they are homeless because the ordinance severely limits their freedom to select or change residences.
     When Doe One could no longer live with his sister due to the residency restriction, his probation officer told him to go live in a homeless encampment.
     Now, he lives at that crude homeless encampment near active railroad tracks where dozens of individuals create a space for themselves by setting up tents or tarps or simply lay down mats on nearby loading docks.
     Likewise, Doe Three has to sleep in his car at the same encampment because he cannot find affordable housing that meets the restrictions of the county ordinance. the court documents say.
     Neither of them has access to sanitary water nor do they feel safe.
     Both argued the goal of public safety, when considering sexual offenders recidivism, could be met without the excessive restrictions of the county ordinance purportedly one of the strictest in the nation.
     They also argued the ordinance undermines the goal of public safety since it impedes them from successfully re-entering society so they can gain secure housing and obtain employment.
     Noting that a sexual offender is subject to the restriction without any regard to their risk of recidivism, the contenders pointed out that research has shown that sexual offender recidivism rates are among the lowest for any offenses and continues to decline over time.
     Yet, even if the sexual offender no longer has to register as a sex offender under Florida law, the county’s residency restriction applies to them for life.
     The 11th Circuit agreed, reversing the lower court’s ruling and allowing them to proceed with discovery.
     Brandon Buskey, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the plaintiffs called the circuit’s ruling “an important victory.”
     “Our plaintiffs set out to demonstrate that Miami-Dade County’s excessive residency restriction unfairly punishes those affected by forcing them into homelessness. The 11th Circuit made clear that they deserve their day in court,” Buskey said in a statement provided to Courthouse News.

%d bloggers like this: