In 2006, California voters passed “Jessica’s Law,” which prohibited registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park. The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office said that just 0.7 percent of multifamily parcels there complied with the law. Four parolees ended up living in the alley behind the parole office, in a dry river bed, in vehicles or in noncompliant homes. That's part of why the California Supreme Court struck down the blanket application of Jessica's Law, says the American Bar Association Journal. In March, a federal court struck down application of Michigan's “geographic exclusion zones” to six plaintiffs, saying the law is unconstitutionally vague. In February, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that all local sex offender residency laws are pre-empted by state law, which does not include residency restrictions.
Courts weren't always so friendly to these challenges. In 2005, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Iowa's residency restrictions did not violate offenders' constitutional rights. There are signs things are changing. Responding to compelling personal stories and mounting evidence that residency restrictions don't work and might even hurt public safety, courts are casting a more critical eye on these laws. “There's a public appetite for [sex offender laws], but there's no evidentiary support that either registries or exclusion zones work,” says Miriam Aukerman of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, who represented the plaintiffs in the Michigan case. “And as a result, you're seeing judges starting to rethink this.”