ILNews

Courts weigh in on sex-offender restrictions

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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A city's law prohibiting registered sex offenders from visiting parks or recreation areas is likely on its way to the Indiana Court of Appeals in what a civil liberties attorney said could be the first appellate case of its kind in the country.

A ruling from Hendricks Superior Judge Robert Freeze March 14 upholds a Plainfield ban of sex offenders in parks and recreational areas, finding the six-year-old local ordinance constitutional and not in violation of any guideposts established by the state or federal Supreme Courts.

Judge Freeze's five-page ruling means the Marion County man identified in court records as John Doe cannot visit the areas with his son, of whom he shares custody. He was convicted in 2001 of child exploitation and possession of child pornography, served time in jail, and was placed on probation until August 2004.

Doe was visiting the Splash Island water park with his young son in June 2005 when police warned him not to return because he was on the sex-offender registry.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed the suit in November 2005, seeking a permanent injunction that would keep Plainfield from enforcing the ordinance it had adopted in 2002. The ordinance provided for a fine of $100 for anyone who violates the prohibition the first time and a $200 fine for each violation thereafter.

Doe won an Indiana Court of Appeals victory last year after appellate judges decided he could proceed with the suit anonymously because his safety could be jeopardized by releasing his full name. But he lost in the latest ruling when Judge Freeze wrote that the local ordinances are presumed constitutional unless specifically shown otherwise.

"The Ordinance is an administrative regulation designed to protect the users of Plainfield's parks and to protect the integrity of the parks themselves; it is not criminal or punitive in nature," the judge wrote, adding that some sexual predators target children they have access to, and some have a high incidence of re-offending.

"We're appealing," said Ken Falk, legal director of ACLU of Indiana. "This is a first in Indiana, and I don't know of any case in the country that deals with a ban (focused) solely on a person's placement on the sex-offender registry."

Indiana is well versed in legal challenges to local ordinances banning convicted sex offenders from entering certain areas; numerous suits have been filed across the state, including suits in Jefferson and Greenwood that remain pending. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has also upheld ordinances in Lafayette and Michigan City, and other trial judges have recently upheld laws restricting how close offenders can live to schools, day cares, and youth centers.

The Indiana Court of Appeals plans to consider a residency restriction during arguments set for March 31 in the Blackford County case Indiana v. Anthony W. Pollard, No. 05A02-0707-CR-640. The court is being asked to decide whether the trial court erred in finding that the 2006 statute limiting offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school property is ex post facto law as it applied to Pollard's 20-year residency. The argument will be at 2:30 p.m. at Indiana University School of Law - Indianapolis.
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