California Supreme Court Declines Review of Cases Invalidating Local Bans on Sex Offenders

Supreme Court Leaves Intact Court of Appeal Cases Holding That State Law Preempts Some Local Sex Offender Ordinances

Local laws regulating where sex offenders may go are likely now invalid following the California Supreme Court’s denial of a petition for review of two California Court of Appeal cases. The cases struck down local laws requiring registered sex offenders to obtain permission from law enforcement officials prior to entering parks in their jurisdictions. The Supreme Court’s action this week leaves intact the rulings that the California Legislature had established a “complete system” for regulating a sex offender’s daily life. Therefore, local regulation in this area is prohibited unless expressly permitted by statute.  Agencies should consult with their legal counsel on how these cases may impact sex offender regulation in their jurisdictions.

The Supreme Court’s denial of the petitions for review has wide-ranging implications. Narrowly interpreted, the appellate courts’ decisions forbid ordinances prohibiting registered sex offenders from entering parks, beaches or other locations in a jurisdiction. Read broadly, the decisions suggest that no municipality may 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 under Penal Code section 3003.5(c).

The Supreme Court’s action leaves intact the rulings in People v. Nguyen and People v. Godinez. Only People v. Nguyen was published by the appellate court, giving it precedential value.

In People v. Nguyen, the Court of Appeal upheld a trial court decision invalidating a misdemeanor complaint against Nguyen 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. The Court of Appeal held that state law overrides the local law because the state Legislature has fully regulated a sex offender’s daily life. Per the court, by fully regulating the daily lives of sex offenders, the state intended to “fully occupy the field” of regulating sex offenders. 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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