Miami-Dade County Eases Residency Restrictions for Registered Sex Offenders

January 25, 2010 by David S. Seltzer

Because I am a Miami sex offender registration defense attorney, I have kept an eye on the local scandal involving sex offenders who live under the Julia Tuttle Causeway Bridge. The colony made the news a few years ago when it came out that sex offenders faced residency restrictions so severe that they actually couldn’t find anyplace else in the county where they could legally live. In fact, an investigation by New Times Miami found that the Florida Department of Corrections was ordering recently released inmates to live there, and some even have the address on their driver’s license. According to a Jan. 21 article in the Miami Herald, Miami-Dade County Commissioners have finally taken steps to address the problem by making new rules about residency.

The county’s new law is intended to stop confusion about the patchwork of city ordinances by superseding them. Under the new law, offenders still may not live within 2500 feet of schools. However, it also adopts the state’s lighter 1,000-foot residency restriction for all other places where children congregate, such as parks and day-care centers. This lifts harsher restrictions on those areas imposed by many cities. The county also added a 300-foot “child safety zone” in those areas, in which sex offenders may not loiter. The hope is that this will create more areas where offenders can find indoor housing. The ACLU of Florida, which has sued the city over the Tuttle Bridge colony in the past, said the new law was a step in the right direction, but still a half measure that doesn’t fully address the problem.

I agree. The easing of the 2500-foot restriction in many cities may help open up more housing, and that’s a good thing. But the new law leaves residency restrictions intact, and even adds a no-loitering restriction, despite no evidence that residency restrictions work. Police and Fort Lauderdale sex offender registration criminal defense lawyers like me know that most child sex crimes are perpetrated by someone the victim knows; that around half of perpetrators are relatives; and that the vast majority had never been arrested for anything before the molestation began. Furthermore, virtually forcing sex offenders to be homeless makes police’s job harder by making it harder to find those offenders.

Practical arguments aside, sex offender residency requirements also create a legal and ethical problem by re-penalizing people who have already done their time. This is against the spirit of our justice system, though perhaps not the letter, and creates real obstacles for ex-offenders who are trying to move on. Under the onus of sex offender residency and registration requirements, offenders have a hard time getting an address, getting a job and building law-abiding lives. And as far as I know, our society does not impose this kind of post-prison penalty for any other crime. As a West Palm Beach sex offender residency defense attorney, I wonder if the real motivation behind these laws is vengeance rather than protection of children.