September 09, 2005

Former sex offenders question the scope of bans

by W. Timothy Howes, Esq.

At least four New Jersey towns ban sex offenders from living near schools, parks and playgrounds and others are considering these restrictions.  Some sex offenders who have served their sentences are questioning the effectiveness and the legality of these bans.

People who have been convicted of sex offenses are required under Megan’s Law to register with the authorities even after they have served their sentences.  The government is under continuing pressure to do even more.  As a result, New Jersey towns are considering sex offender bans and some have already been passed into law.

One New Jersey town banned convicted sex offenders from living within 2500 feet of areas where children congregate.  The theory is to establish a “buffer zone” for the safety of the children.  The town leaders went one step further - they established a buffer zone with a 2500 foot radius around each school bus stop in town.  Since there are over 2000 school bus stops in that town, the ordinance effectively bars sex offenders from living anywhere in that town.

If this trend continues, then there will be nowhere in New Jersey for convicted sex offenders to live.  Sounds good, right?

Opponents of these ordinances fear that there is no way for a local politician to vote against them.  Some have gone so far as to question how government would be able to enforce such a ban, and have questioned the legality of such a ban.  According to some, the bans are too broad in scope.  One advocate has even accused elected officials of using the issue to score “cheap political points” with their constituents.

It is likely that a formal legal challenge will materialize, and the New Jersey courts will decide the issue. 

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