Posted by: Patricia Salkin | October 1, 2008

Iowa Residency Restriction for Sex Offenders Upheld by State Supreme Court

Residency restrictions for convicted sex offenders remains a controversial topic as communities demand that state and local governments enacted residency and distance restrictions from schools and other places where children congregate in large numbers to protect children from convicted sex offenders who victimized minors, and those who believe that such restrictions are ineffective. Recently, this blog reported on a Georgia law that was declared unconstitutional because it found that a convicted sex offender potentially could not live anywhere and would have to continually move if a protected “use” subsequently moved within 1,000 feet of the sex offender’s existing residence. In New Jersey, a residency restriction in a local zoning ordinance was struck down not on the grounds that it was unconstitutional, but rather because it was preempted by state statute.  States, including as Iowa and Oklahoma, have adopting residency restrictions, and others, such as New York, are exploring options.  What follows is a review of a recent Iowa case upholding the State statute on residency restriction as applied to one person. 


Willard, a convicted sex offender, attempted to purchase a house that was located within 2000 feet of a school, a violation of State statute (Iowa Code section 692A.2A).  Willard refused to move, and following criminal charges, filed a motion to dismiss alleging that the statute violated his right to procedural due process, constituted a bill of attainder, violated his right to equal protection, and violated his right to travel (the last claim was not briefed so it was not preserved for appeal).  The district court denied his motion to dismiss the criminal charges finding he violated the residency restrictions, and imposed a $500 fine.


The Iowa Supreme Court affirmed the lower court ruling, noting that the State’s two thousand-foot rule has withstood constitutional challenge a number of times (citations omitted). Although Willard claimed that he entered into a contract o purchase the home at a time when he could legally reside there due to ongoing litigation over the statute, the Court found this allegation untrue since the State had merely agreed for a period of time to postpone enforcement of the statute, not to make the law ineffectual. The Court said that “Willard should not have been under any illusion that he was entitled to love in the house when he purchased it.”


The Court rejected Willard’s argument that the law constituted a “bill of attainder” which is a legislative act that inflicts a punishment on a particular individual or readily identifiable group without a trial.  The Court said that while the statute does identify a class of individuals – sex offenders whose victims were minors – the residency restrictions is not a punishment. In this case, Willard was not punished for being a member of this group. Rather, he was punished for violating the statute, which, the court said, was adopted for the legitimate purpose of protecting children. Further, in denying the claim, the Court noted that Willard was afforded all of the protections of judicial process when charged with violating the statute.


Willard’s equal protection claim failed because he failed to identify the classes of similarly situated people singled out for a different treatment by the statute. Although Willard argued that the statute impaired his ability to make a home with his family, which he argued was a fundamental right, the Court found this without merit, concluding that the statute did not prevent Willard from living with his family.  Rather, the two thousand-foot rule merely prevented him from living in a house of his choosing.  In finding the two thousand-foot rule rational, the Court noted that although the rule “is not necessarily the perfect protection against the danger posed by sex offenders, ‘perfection is not necessary to meet the rational basis standard.’”


The Court next rejected Willard’s procedural due process argument.  He alleged that the statute interfered with his right to contract (for the house) and that he was therefore entitled to a predeprivation hearing. The Court said that his right to contract was not directly affected by the statute, only his right to live there.


State v. Willard, 2008 WL 4308326 (Iowa, 9/19/2008).


 The opinion can be accessed at: 

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