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KY Registered Sex Offenders Free to Relocate

October 11, 2009

thenewsenterprise.com : KY Registered Sex Offenders Free to Relocate – Only post-2006 convicts subject to restrictions.

Hardin County, KY – Thanks to Kentucky’s high court, most of Hardin County’s 148 registered sex offenders can now reside wherever they choose, regardless of their home’s proximity to schools, daycares and playgrounds. (as it should be for any American citizen under the Constitution)

That is, for now, anyway. Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway vows to challenge Kentucky Supreme Court’s Oct. 1 ruling that says Kentucky’s sex offender residency restrictions cannot apply to persons convicted prior to July 2006, when the law was enacted.

The law under question kept all registered sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of places where children congregate, such as playgrounds, schools and daycares.

The Court, in a 5-2 vote, declared that law unconstitutional and punitive, finding retroactive residence restrictions a form of “ex post facto punishment,” violating Article I, Section 10, of the U.S. Constitution.

“The flaw is that residence restrictions are even less like civil commitment than they are like banishment,” the Court’s opinion states. “The majority also finds (the law) excessive because the restricted areas can change as protected sites come and go.”

This month’s decision was made after Kenton County prosecutors appealed a judge’s decision to dismiss charges against a man’s appeal for allegedly violating the residency rules. Michael Baker was arrested in February 2007 after probation and parole officers found he lived too close to a public park. The alleged offense occurred 12 years after Baker pleaded guilty to a third-degree rape. Kenton District Judge Martin Sheehan dismissed the charges and gave strong arguments to support his decision.

Sheehan opined the restrictions were ineffective at doing what they were intended to do: protect children.

He pointed out that most sex offenses against children are committed by family members or trusted friends of the family. The residency restrictions, he said, do not address that problem. The restrictions keep registered sex offenders from residing near schools and parks, but fail to keep pedophiles, or any other offender, from stalking a school or ambushing a child in a park.

Despite Sheehan’s reasoning behind the decision, prosecutors appealed the dismissal and the case fell on the laps of Kentucky’s Supreme Court. After review, five Justices agreed with Sheehan, but Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. and Justice Lisabeth Hughes Abramson did not. With the majority winning, Sheehan’s opinion was supported.

What does it all mean?

As a result of the ruling, residency restrictions forbidding registered offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a place where children congregate can not be enforced on those convicted before July 2006.

A variety of criminal charges are reflected by Kentucky’s Sex Offender Registry. Not all persons on the list are pedophiles or violent rapists. Many on the list, including most female offenders, have been ordered to register as a result of having consensual sex with a teenager.

Does anyone else care? Who does this affect?

There hasn’t been a loud public outcry against the loss of residency restrictions, either. It seems few people in Hardin County, on either side of the issue, have been impacted by, or care much about, the residency restrictions.

Since 2006, when tighter residency restrictions became law, only three registered sex offenders living in Hardin County have been charged with violating the rules.

Such an offense is a Class A misdemeanor for the first offense and punishable by a maximum of 12 months in jail. A second offense is a Class D felony, enabling sentences of up to five years. No person in Hardin County has been charged with a felony violation of residency restrictions, but two men have done time for the misdemeanor, first-time offense.

As Sheehan mentioned in his opinion, Reeves said residency restrictions can make permanency difficult for a registered sex offender. “It’s kind of a tough thing,” he said. “You could have a guy establish a residence, then later on someone decides to set up a daycare or playground down the road. Where does he go?”

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