Court to decide if sex offenders must have a home
By BOB JOHNSON Associated Press Writer
Published: Saturday, August 28, 2010 at 9:14 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, August 28, 2010 at 9:14 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, August 28, 2010 at 9:14 a.m.
The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals is deciding four cases that will determine if convicted sex offenders must provide a permanent address when they are released from prison.
Montgomery County Judges Truman Hobbs and Tracey McCooey ruled last year in separate cases that a law requiring inmates convicted of sex offenses to have a permanent address before they are released from prison is vague and unconstitutional.
Alabama Attorney General Troy King has appealed and asked the Court of Criminal Appeals to reinstate the law. King says the statute is necessary for law enforcement officers to keep an eye on people convicted of sex crimes like rape.
All briefs have been filed and arguments made in the four cases. Attorneys say the court could rule at any time.
This article is a longer version of the same story, courtesy of the Anniston Star:
Alabama court to decide if sex offenders must have a home
When it came time for him to leave the Kilby Correctional Facility near Montgomery, he was re-arrested. The reason: He couldn't give officials an address where he would be living.
"This is essentially an eternal prison sentence. It could be a life sentence," said attorney David Schoen, who represents Seagle and three others in similar situations. "It is the ultimate scarlet letter."
Challenged by Schoen, the law was later declared unconstitutional by two Montgomery circuit judges, but the state attorney general has appealed to have it reinstated. State's attorneys say the four inmates could have complied with the law by listing a park bench or even a street corner as their permanent address.
Montgomery County Circuit Judges Truman Hobbs and Tracey McCooey ruled last year in separate cases that the law is unconstitutionally vague. The ruling struck down charges that the four inmates violated the law when they declared that they were homeless and did not provide an address for where they would be living outside prison.
Seagle and the other three inmates were arrested for violating the notification law when they started to leave prison at the end of their sentences. They have since been released after the law was ruled unconstitutional.
Alabama Attorney General Troy King has asked the state Court of Criminal Appeals to reinstate the law, which he said is necessary for law enforcement officers to keep an eye on people convicted of sex crimes like rape. The four men — Phillip Handley, Thornal Adams, Richard Coppage and Seagle — argued in court briefs that they were unable to find a homeless shelter, halfway house or other permanent home.
Under Alabama law, convicted sex offenders are not permitted to live within 2,000 feet of an elementary or high school or college or university.
Although they are now out of prison, Schoen said his four clients are still having a hard time finding a place to live. He said they have stayed in homeless shelters and other temporary locations.
Many states that adopted stringent community notification rules for sex offenders are now grappling with the issue of how homeless sex offenders can comply.
Last year, probation officers in Georgia had to find temporary housing for nine homeless sex offenders who were kicked out of a makeshift tent city they had built in the woods behind a suburban Atlanta office building. The men said the tent city was the only place they had been able to find where they could live and comply with state law.
In a similar case, almost 100 homeless sex offenders in Florida were forced to move earlier this year from a makeshift camp under a bridge on a Miami causeway.
Mississippi has a law similar to Alabama's, but it gives sex offenders 10 days to find a permanent residence after they are released from prison. In California, sex offenders are allowed to register as "transient" if they can't find housing.
Schoen has argued that the Alabama law violates the Constitution because it requires a convicted sex offender, who has "paid his debt to society," to have a roof over his head.
But the attorney general's office has argued in court briefs that the law does not require a specific address and that inmates can say they are going to live on a park bench or under an interstate overpass, as long as they remain the required distance from schools and police know where to find them.
"You can say 'I'm going to live under the overpass on Ann Street," King said, referring to a Montgomery street not far from the Capitol.
Virginia law allows homeless sex offenders to list a street corner, parking lot or other vacant space as their home.
Deputy Attorney General Pete Smyczek denies claims that the Alabama law is an attempt to give homeless sex offenders life sentences.
"We just want them to give us something definitive enough to allow law enforcement to locate them," Smyczek said.
The law passed the Alabama Legislature in a special session in 2005. The House sponsor, former state Rep. Neil Morrison, D-Cullman, said King and some legislators were concerned that "predators were disappearing back into society" as soon as they were released from prison before law enforcement officers could find out where they were living.
"I felt strongly about this. We owe protection to our children," Morrison said.
Schoen said he believes the Legislature intended to require sex offenders to stay in prison if they lack a permanent address and that the argument about living on park benches is being made to improve chances of winning before the appellate court.
But Morrison said that's not the case.
"Nowhere did we say in the law that they have to stay in prison. The intent was to protect children," Morrison said.
In court filings, attorneys for the sex offenders say their clients went to great lengths to abide by the law.
Seagle, who was initially convicted of rape in Montgomery County in 1995, had been in prison for 14 years when he was told he would have to provide an address before he was released from prison and at that time didn't have any relatives or friends he could live with, according to his filing to the appellate court. The filing said Seagle wrote to a number of halfway houses and was only accepted to live in one in Oklahoma City.
But that halfway house later informed him it was full and he could not live there. The filing said Seagle did not have money to rent a house or an apartment and he did not have access to the Internet in prison to help his search. It said Seagle "did not think he could put down that he would be living on a park bench and that if he did, he would probably get arrested again."