BB&K Municipal & Public Safety Legal Alert: Court Holds Bans on Sex Offenders Entering Parks Without Permission Invalid

Court of Appeal Holds State Law Preempts Local Ordinances

Overview: A California Court of Appeal recently struck down a provision of the Irvine Municipal Code and an Orange County ordinance, both of which required registered sex offenders to obtain permission from the City Police Chief or County Sheriff, respectively, prior to entering parks in the county. The court held that the California Legislature had established a complete system for regulating a sex offender’s daily life such that local regulation in this area is prohibited unless expressly permitted by statute. As a result, the court held the local laws invalid.

Implications: These decisions have the potential for wide-ranging implications. Narrowly interpreted, the decisions forbid ordinances prohibiting registered sex offenders from going to parks, beaches or other places in a jurisdiction. However, read expansively, the decisions stand for the notion that municipalities may not establish restrictions on a sex offender’s daily life beyond residency unless state law expressly permits it. It is important to remember that more stringent residency restrictions on registered sex offenders are specifically authorized pursuant to Penal Code section 3003.5(c). In addition, appeals of these decisions to the California Supreme Court are being considered by the local agencies.

Summary Analysis: In the first case, People v. Nguyen, the court upheld a trial court decision invalidating a misdemeanor complaint against the defendant for violating the Irvine Municipal Code provision requiring him to seek written permission from the Irvine Police Chief prior to entering parks and other recreational facilities in the city. In September 2012, defendant, a registered sex offender, entered a public park in Irvine without first seeking permission from the Irvine Police Chief. The District Attorney filed a misdemeanor complaint. The trial court concluded that the misdemeanor complaint was invalid under state law. The case was appealed.

In the second case, People v. Godinez, the court overturned defendant’s misdemeanor conviction for violating the Orange County ordinance requiring him to seek written permission from the County Sheriff prior to visiting parks, beaches, harbors, and other recreation areas in Orange County. In May 2011, defendant, a registered sex offender, had visited Miles Square Regional Park for a company picnic while on probation without first seeking permission from the County Sheriff. The District Attorney filed a misdemeanor complaint against him and, unlike Nguyen, he was found guilty by the trial court. Godinez appealed.

The Court of Appeal held that state law overrides the local laws because the state legislature has fully regulated a sex offender’s daily life. According to the court, by fully regulating the daily lives of sex offenders, the state intended to fully occupy the field. This has the effect of prohibiting local regulations under the legal theory known as preemption. The court identified at least 11 state statutes regulating a sex offender’s daily life along with several statements of legislative intent to support its position.


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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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