On Jan. 10, 2014, an Orange County ordinance banning all registered sex offenders from county parks was struck down by the California Court of Appeals. The law had been challenged as being in conflict with existing state laws and therefore constitutionally void. In a related but separate opinion, The Court of Appeals also ruled against the City of Irvine’s similar ordinance.
What Brought This Issue to the Court of Appeal?
Hugo Godinez was convicted of misdemeanor sexual battery in 2010, which resulted in his lifetime requirement to register as a sex offender.
On Cinco de Mayo 2011, the day the ordinance went into effect, Godinez entered Mile Square Regional Park in Fountain Valley to attend a mandatory company picnic. He was subsequently convicted of a misdemeanor in violation of the county ordinance.
The decision by the 4th District Court of Appeal reverses his conviction for being in the park. “Godinez argues state law preempts the county ordinance and therefore his conviction is void. We agree,” the Court declared, adding that the state Legislature has already enacted a “comprehensive statutory scheme regulating the daily life of sex offenders.”
Entrance into a county park was prohibited unless the registrant received prior written approval from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, which denied all but one request while the ordinance was in effect. The appeals court also decided that requirement amounts to a “de facto registration requirement” that conflicts with the state’s existing sex offender registration requirements.
Godinez’s conviction was initially overturned in November 2012, when a panel of superior court judges in Orange County revoked his misdemeanor conviction for violating the ordinance. The Orange County District Attorney immediately sought review of that decision in the Court of Appeal. Since then, Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens had stopped enforcing the law.
Background on Orange County Sex Offender Restrictions in Parks
In April 2011, Orange County passed one of California’s most aggressive local laws restricting where a registered sex offender could be physically present.
Orange County Ordinance No. 11-012 made it a misdemeanor crime for anyone required to register pursuant to California’s Sex Offender Registration Act (Penal Code Section 290) to unlawfully enter a county park without the sheriff’s prior written permission. The Orange County ordinance included numerous parks and hiking areas, as well as harbors, beaches, the Orange County Zoo and other recreational areas deemed to be frequented by children.
If convicted of violating the local law, a registered sex offender could have been sentenced to serve up to six-months in jail and/or ordered to pay a maximum $500 fine.
At the urging of Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackaukas, 15 Orange County cities also passed a similar version of the county ordinance prohibiting sex offenders from entering city parks and other public places.
What was the Reason for the Ordinance?
The purpose and intent of the ordinance was to protect children from registered sex offenders by restricting sex offenders’ access to locations where children regularly gather. It was intended to reduce the risk of harm to children by restricting the ability of sex offenders to be in contact with children.
However, the County Board of Supervisors did not rely on any competent evidence that children were being harmed by sex offenders in public places when it voted unanimously to approve the restrictions. Furthermore, not all persons required to register had sexually assaulted a child.
The Orange County D.A. may appeal the rulings to the California Supreme Court. However, unless that happens and the Supreme Court issues a contrary opinion, local laws in many other California cities and counties prohibiting a sex offender’s presence in certain public places may face costly constitutional challenges unless they are repealed.
What Wallin & Klarich Thinks
Protecting children from sexual abuse should be a public policy priority. However, the Orange County sex offender restrictions do not seem to be accomplishing this goal.
On the contrary, these restrictions appear to create a false sense of security and could be counterproductive to public safety. Increasingly tighter restrictions on registered sex offenders can lead to their further isolation, leaving them susceptible to emotional triggers that could cause their re-offense.
Funding public policy measures aimed at preventing sexual abuse before it happens would be a much wiser investment of limited taxpayer money.
Call the Sex Crimes Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich
If you are being with charged with a sex crime, your whole life can change. But it doesn’t have to. The skilled and knowledgeable attorneys at Wallin & Klarich have over 30 years of experience successfully defending persons accused of sex crimes. If you have been convicted of a sex crime and ordered to register as a sex offender, we can help you end that duty.
With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Tustin, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich sex crimes attorney near you no matter where you are located.
Call us at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will get through this together.