September 21, 2010

Judge hears arguments on whether homeless sex offenders should be allowed to stay in shelters near schools

Opinion: The problem here, is the shelters have no duty to interpret and enforce the law, they are using the law as a pretext to deny RSOs entry because they do not like having RSOs. The law -as written- is a mandate on the registrants, and if they have violated it, then the police should arrest them. I'd love to see a judge tell someone, they cannot come in out of the sub-zero weather in wintertime; that, will not happen. This judge is telling lawyers to resolve the problem for him, and I do believe he is siding with allowing RSOs to stay at shelters during such weather.

UPDATE: From the Michigan Messenger: "This challenge comes after a homeless sex offender froze to death last year after being turned away from shelters. It also follows a state appeals court ruling that determined homeless sex offenders don’t have to register because they do not have a place of residence." (Note: Homeless court decision was 2-2-2010 Mr Pauli died in January of 2009, therefore court decision was not yet applicable, but now muddies the water.)

UPDATE July 2011: " Michigan Supreme Court rules homeless sex offenders must report addresses to authorities" and they never resolved the Shelter Issue!
9-21-2010 Michigan:

GRAND RAPIDS -- A federal judge on Monday told attorneys to resolve issues over a state law that has prevented homeless sex offenders from staying at city shelters -- all within school-safety zones.

Advocates for the homeless filed a lawsuit against state and county officials, saying homeless sex offenders have nowhere to turn.

"In the meantime, your honor, we are moving into winter on the horns of a dilemma," attorney Norman Pylman, representing Mel Trotter Ministries, told U.S. District Judge Gordon Quist. The judge said he would issue a written opinion in two weeks if both sides cannot reach an agreement.

Homeless advocates said a law that prevents sex offenders from residing within 1,000 feet of a school puts the offenders at risk on the street -- and at risk of prosecution if they stay at a shelter.

Attorney Miriam Aukerman argued that homeless people, who only spend the night at shelters, are not residents. A state appellate panel, in another case, said it was not possible for homeless sex offenders to register addresses because they do not have a residence.

"I just think that the defense has an uphill battle trying to get around the word, 'residence,'" Quist told attorneys.

This lawsuit came after the January 2009 freezing death in Grand Rapids of Thomas Pauli, 51, who reportedly was turned away from a shelter because of a 1991 conviction involving a pre-teen girl.

Assistant Attorney General Margaret Nelson said shelters were under the mistaken belief they faced penalties if they allowed entry to sex offenders.

"They have no obligation under the statute to determine if the person is a sex offender or not."

She acknowledged the Court of Appeals said homeless don't have to register, but said it should be up to local police departments and prosecutors on determining if sex offenders violate the law. If a sex offender lists an address in a school-safety zone, authorities can't ignore it.

Nelson said not all of the plaintiffs are still homeless, or even living in Grand Rapids.

She said a challenge should come in a criminal case, with an actual defendant challenging the law.

Quist said: "I don't think that a person staying overnight has to worry about prosecution."

"I don't either," Nelson said.

But when he asked if "there would be no prosecution," she replied: "I can't assure you of that, your honor."

Enforcement of the law is a challenge, Grand Rapids Police Chief Kevin Belk said in an affidavit.

"Among other things, it is unclear whether registered individuals can stay in Grand Rapids' shelters, which are all located within 1,000 feet of a school," he wrote.

Linda Howell, representing Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth, said Forsyth isn't willing to ignore the law -- nor does he want to audit shelter books to determine if a sex offender is staying at a shelter temporarily or living there.

Pylman, attorney for Mel Trotter, and William Farr, representing Degage Ministries, said their clients are committed to helping the homeless. They also work closely with police. Pylman said the law "puts us at odds with the very people we're trying to service."

Aukerman said her five clients, identified in court records by pseudonyms, have not been convicted of serious sex offenses. Three of them were convicted of high-court misdemeanors, she said. One of them was 19 when he had sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend, who told him she was 17. ..Source.. John Agar | The Grand Rapids Press

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