No Right to Live Near Schools, Or Even in a City
Doe v. Miller: The Legal Theories

Doe v. Miller: No Place to Live

Today a unanimous three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a law that would require people convicted of certain sex offenders to live, if at all, as complete outcasts.  Doe v. Miller, No. 04-1568 (8th Cir. Apr. 29, 2005).  Perhaps people convicted of crimes against minors should be treated as lepers.  Sermon Illustrations, Leprosy ("Almost every age has had its social outcasts, people barred from normal society whether through physical illness or national origin. One person who stepped across these barriers in India was pioneer missionary Mary Reed. Already working in India, Mary visited a leper colony and was deeply moved by the people’s plight.")

How we should treat those convicted of harming the most vulnerable is an interesting question - morally and legally.  But before I go into the law involved in Doe v. Miller, I want to illustrate that Iowa's law would indeed create a new form of leper colonies.

Iowa City, IA adopted an ordinance that prohibited persons convicted of certain crimes against minors from living within 2,000 feet of a school zone.

The problems for sex offenders are three-fold.  First, the law prevents them from living with relatives.  Many convicted criminals - and especially those convicted of sex offenses - are unable to find jobs; as a result, their only viable option is the generosity of friends and family. 

Second, Iowa City's law would mean that some people would have difficulty establishing housing anywhere.  According to the panel, "the district court found that the restricted areas in many cities encompass the majority of the available housing in the city, thus leaving only limited areas within city limits available for sex offenders to establish a residence." Slip op. at 4.  Indeed, "[i]n smaller towns, a single school or child care facility can cause all of the incorporated areas of the town to be off limits to sex offenders."  Id.

Third, when you factor in that a sex offender's registration becomes imperfect unless he immediately updates it upon every change of residence, it's also likely that some sex offenders will be convicted for forgetting to register after every short-term move.  There was a recent case where a person who had not reoffended in almost a decade was convicted of failing to (re)register as a sex offender after he had moved.  Because he did not update his registration within the required two weeks, this man - who by all acounts was rehabilitated - returned to prison.  Imagine the difficulties people who jump from friend's house to friend's house will face, as they now must ensure that they are not within 2,000 feet of a school zone and that they promptly update their registration.

Maybe you think that the law, constitutional issues aside, is just.  Perhaps the need to protect children outweighs and problems Iowa City's law might cause.  Please leave your remarks (anonymously, if you feel uncomfortable discussing this volatile topic using your name) in the comments section.

[Ed's note: In the next installment I'll discuss the legal issues raised in Doe.  My spouse is telecommuting today, and thus will get first dibs on the only computer with a working wireless card, so it might be awhile before I update the post.  Or not.  So stay tuned!]