Fearing sex offenders banned from neighboring beaches would end up in Huntington Beach, the Huntington Beach city council directed the city attorney to draft an ordinance that would ban registered sex offenders from city beaches and parks. The council, while agreeing unanimously to have the law drafted, did not agree on how it would be implemented.
The ordinance was introduced as a response to a similar law passed in Orange County in April that requires permission from the Sheriff’s Department for sex offenders to visit county beaches, parks, zoos and some harbor areas. The penalty for a violation is up to six months in jail or a $500 fine. The Orange County district attorney touts the law as a way to create a safety zone for children.
Because the law is broad and limits the right to use public places, its opponents point out potential Constitutional issues, which include violations of equal protection, liberty rights, ex-post facto law, and the First Amendment. In fact, the Orange County D.A. has already acknowledged that the law would not be enforced the same way for every registered sex offender but on a case-by-case basis, opening the door to Constitutional questions.
Similar laws have been declared unconstitutional in at least one state. In Indiana, a father won a lawsuit against the city of Jeffersonville when, because of his conviction for sexual battery of a 13-year-old girl, he was not allowed to watch his son play in a Little League game. The appellate court in that case ruled that the law was unconstitutional as applied to him because he had been convicted and registered as a sex offender before the law was passed, making it an ex-post facto violation.
While this law can be expected to be challenged in California, which already has a state law banning from beaches sex offenders whose victims were under the age of 14, similar laws were also passed in both South Carolina and Illinois last year and are gaining momentum across the United States as lawmakers continue to pass popular, vote-getting laws while ignoring Constitutional red flags.
In addition to potential issues about the Constitutional ramifications, however, opponents question the need for-and effectiveness of-such a law. They note that nine out of 10 children who are sexually assaulted are not victimized by strangers in public places but by people they know personally or by family friends.