Sex Offender Asks for More Prison Time to Avoid Homelessness Caused by Residency Requirement

November 2, 2009 by David S. Seltzer

As you may be able to see from this blog, I keep a close eye on issues related to sex offender residency requirements, as part of my work as a Fort Lauderdale sex offender criminal defense attorney. The state of Florida requires registered sex offenders to live more than 1,000 feet away from schools and other places where children gather. In Miami-Dade and Broward County, that restricted is extended to 2,500 feet. Thanks to the colony of homeless offenders living under the Julia Tuttle Causeway colony, and the lawsuits surrounding it, the issue is getting some welcome attention here in South Florida. Most recently, on Oct. 29, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel ran a piece that shows just how desperate the restrictive laws in Broward County have made some offenders: At least two have asked for more jail time because they cannot find places to live.

The article focused on Raphael Marquez, 38, who served seven years in prison for sexual battery on a minor. Marquez was scheduled to be released in June, but requested and received more jail time instead of house arrest. He was again scheduled to be released last week to serve 18 years of probation -- but asked a Broward County judge for yet more prison time rather than the probation. The public defender representing Marquez said he has no family and no residence in Florida, which he cannot leave during probation; he expected to be homeless after his release. Because of the residency restrictions in Broward County and its cities, the closest facilities for homeless sex offenders are in Pahokee and Fort Myers, both far to the north -- and with no job, he can’t afford to pay deposits at those. The judge said he had no authority to imprison Marquez, but said he was disturbed to essentially throw someone onto the streets.

The failed request by Marquez shortly followed a request the week before from registered sex offender Cory Lewis. Lewis has a home in Fort Lauderdale, but cannot live there because of residency restrictions. He asked for more prison time in lieu of house arrest, but the judge refused and gave him 90 days to find a new home. That time extension is important for people on probation, because one offense, including a residency violation, means even more legal trouble. The judge in the Marquez case was critical of the residency requirement, reportedly saying that “The Legislature has got to realize we're digging ourselves into a hole and it's only going to get deeper, and deeper, and deeper.”

As a South Florida sex offender registration defense lawyer, I agree completely. State and local legislators have created a situation that forces offenders into homelessness even when officials have not actually told them to live under a bridge, as reportedly happened with the Julia Tuttle Causeway colony. As the public defender for Marquez pointed out, the situation is inhumane to offenders and unsafe for the public, because it’s much harder to keep track of offenders like Marquez when they have no permanent address. In fact, because keeping tabs on offenders is the entire point of registration requirements, residency restrictions that push offenders into homelessness actually undermine them.

As a Miami sex offender residency violation defense attorney, I understand that nobody wants offenders near children. But when a law doesn’t protect the public and raises serious questions about offenders’ rights, it’s time to reconsider that law. Forcing people by circumstance into homelessness is not just an inhumane situation; it can also create difficulties for offenders who are trying to get jobs and take other steps toward a better life. No matter how you feel about residency requirements, it’s easy to agree that that’s a goal worth supporting.