In a remarkable, unanimous decision, the California Supreme Court held on March 2, 2015 that residence restrictions for sex offenders on parole were unconstitutional as applied. Although the case technically addressed the situation of four named plaintiffs in San Diego County, the decision calls into doubt the statute’s validity in the entire state.
In re Taylor tested the Sexual Predator Punishment and Control Act: Jessica’s Law, which, like many overwrought and unwise laws was enacted by initiative. Passed in 2006, it added Section 3003.5(b) to the Penal Code, making it “unlawful for any person for whom registration is required . . . to reside within 2000 feet of any public or private school, or park where children regularly gather.” In 2010, in an earlier stage of the case, the Court rejected claims brought by that the law was invalid on its face because it was unconstitutionally retroactive under California law, or because it violated state or federal prohibitions on ex post facto laws. However, the plaintiffs pursued the argument that the law was unconstitutional as applied; the trial court, California Court of Appeals, and Supreme Court agreed.
I went to college, and practiced law, with Dan Ackman, an outstanding New York lawyer who represents taxi drivers in a variety of contexts. One of his cases, pending in the Southern District of New York, Nnebe v. Daus, challenges the TLC’s alleged practice of automatic license suspension a upon arrest for a felony or specified misdemeanor, and automatic revocation upon conviction, even if the charges had no temporal, physical or logical relationship to driving a cab. The Second Circuit previously held that automatic revocation was constitutional, but directed a trial on whether the post-deprivation hearing was sufficient. The case was remanded, tried, and is now pending a decision before Judge Sullivan. The case has important implications for collateral consequences; mere arrests should not be the basis for any important decision, other than an inquiry into the actual facts, and even a conviction for an unrelated offense should not be the basis for license revocation.
This week’s New Yorker features an article by Ryan Lizza about potential democratic candidates. One, James Webb, former U.S. Senator from Virginia, has a history of interest in prisons and reentry of people with convictions. The article states:
“In the Senate, he pushed for creating a national commission that would study the American prison system, and he convened hearings on the economic consequences of mass incarceration. He says he even hired three staffers who had criminal records. ‘If you have been in prison, God help you if you want to really rebuild your life,’ Webb told me. ‘We’ve got seven million people somehow involved in the system right now, and they need a structured way to reënter society and be productive again.’ He didn’t mention it, but he is aware that the prison population in the U.S. exploded after the Clinton Administration signed tough new sentencing laws.”
Of course, reentry is not necessarily a partisan issue; President George W. Bush also cared about it, calling America “the land of second chance” in his 2004 State of the Union address, and signing into law the Second Chance Act. It will be interesting to see if prison spending and reentry become issues in the primaries or the general election.