May 20, 2017

How to Measure 1,000 Feet for the Sex Offender Residential Restriction

5-20-17 North Carolina:

Under G.S. 14-208.16, a registered sex offender may not reside “within 1,000 feet of the property on which any public or nonpublic school or child care center is located.” What’s the right way to measure those 1,000 feet? As the crow flies? Property line to property line? Building to building?

The statute is susceptible to multiple interpretations, and the issue has yet to be explored in North Carolina’s appellate courts. My sense is that not all 100 sheriffs in North Carolina apply the law in exactly the same way. And that’s understandable, because I can think of more than one interpretation that makes sense as a policy matter.

For example, a strict property-line-to-property-line approach isn’t a great fit in a rural area where a person’s actual residence might be many thousands of feet from the edge of his or her property. And measuring the distance as the crow flies may fail to take into account barriers like rivers and interstate highways that might effectively buffer a school or child care center by more than the required distance. It’s also challenging to apply the law to rental properties, where a registrant’s individual unit might be more than 1,000 feet from a protected place, but portions of the broader complex—perhaps including common recreation areas, like a perimeter walking trail—fall within the prohibited radius. All of these questions (and many more) have come up in real life.

Even if the “right” way to measure the distance may be open question for now, I do think the statute itself may give us some answers. ..Continued..

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