Second Circuit Backs Home Checks for Sex Offenders

MANHATTAN (CN) – A Long Island sex offender who faced home visits from a private nonprofit contracted by his county did not endure an unconstitutional search, the Second Circuit affirmed Wednesday.

Writing for a three-judge panel, U.S. Circuit Judge Christopher Droney noted in the ruling that in this case, public-safety interests outweigh the offenders’ rights.

“In sum, the program advances the government’s substantial interest in reducing sex offender recidivism by improving the accuracy of the registry,” the 29-page opinion states. “Thus, the program serves a special need ‘beyond the normal need for law enforcement.’”

A man who served four years in prison on a 1992 rape and sodomy conviction brought the underlying lawsuit under the pseudonym John Jones. Because of his status as a level-one offender — a designation for those deemed to pose a moderate risk of reoffending — Jones faced a 20-year requirement to register annually with the state, visit his local police precinct to get photographed every three years, and tell authorities if he moves.

Because Jones lives in Suffolk County, however, he has also faced additional requirements since 2013 under the Community Protection Act, a local law that established a three-year contract with the nonprofit Parents of Megan’s Law to track and monitor registered sex offenders pursuant to a contract with police.

The group reported a 99% response rate from registrants at the end of the first year and found 13% of home addresses on the registry conflicted with the person’s actual address.

Jones sued after receiving two home visits from the field representatives, saying the threat of embarrassment from such visits made him stop going to his children’s school and athletic activities.

The Fourth Amendment only prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, but a federal judge ruled against Jones’ case at summary judgment. Affirming that result Wednesday, the Obama-appointed Droney found the visits constitutional under the special needs doctrine.

Pointing to the 1999 ruling Roe v. Marcotte, Droney noted that the same logic allowed the court to upheld a Connecticut law that required incarcerated sex offenders to submit DNA samples to a data bank. 

“We held that program served the government’s significant interest in solving past and future crimes, and deterring sex offenders from reoffending in the future,” Droney wrote. 

The ruling also says Megan’s Law visits did not significantly affect Jones’ freedom.

“The detention was brief and unobtrusive,” Droney wrote. “The address verification process lasted mere minutes, and the RVRs [Registry Verification Field Representatives] did not request information other than Jones’s address and did not touch him or treat him in a threatening or rude manner.”  

Droney added that certain groups of people, such as registered sex offenders, “‘enjoy a diminished expectation of privacy’ in certain information.” Jones had also received advance notice he needed to provide his home address.

Jones was removed from the registry in 2016 after serving the required 20 years. 

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