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COA upholds Plainfield parks ban

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The Indiana Constitution doesn't ensure a person's right to enter a public park, and that means a local law restricting sex offenders from visiting those areas isn't unconstitutional, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today.

In a 20-page opinion released in John Doe v. Town of Plainfield, No. 32A01-0803-CV-133, the three-judge panel unanimously affirmed a March ruling by Hendricks Superior Judge Robert Freese, upholding the town's ordinance banning sex offenders from parks.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana represented Doe, a Marion County resident who is on the registry for 2001 child exploitation and child pornography convictions. The group's legal director, Ken Falk, said this case is the first state appellate decision addressing the issue.

"We're obviously disappointed, and we'll have to determine what the next step will be and if we'll request transfer," Falk said.

Upholding the community's 2002 ordinance, the court determined that Doe's three constitutional claims should fail.

"... The rights guaranteed (or perhaps more accurately, the natural rights recognized as inalienable) in Article I, Section 1, are expressed in language so broad - 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,' among other rights - that it would be impossible to conclude from the text itself that the provision recognizes, as a core value, the right to enter public parks for legitimate purposes," the court wrote.

A historical examination of Indiana's constitutional scheme also doesn't provide that insight, the court found. The judges also rejected Doe's arguments that the Plainfield ordinance violates two other constitutional provisions - Section 12 that requires the ordinance to be rationally related to a legitimate legislative goal, and Section 24 that prohibits retroactive punishment through ex post facto law.

Falk said this decision could impact other pending cases throughout the state. A similar parks ban has been stayed in Greenwood pending this case's culmination, and an as-applied challenge to Jeffersonville's ordinance is also ongoing. The state's high court is also considering related sex-offender restriction and registration cases, as are federal courts.

Aside from the sex-offender restriction component, the new Doe opinion also invites Indiana Supreme Court review on whether Article I, Section 1 of the state constitution creates judicially enforceable rights or merely expresses aspirational principles that are incapable of judicial enforcement. The Court of Appeals declined to address that issue in today's opinion and noted that the state justices had also previously declined to examine it thoroughly. That question remains for another day.

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