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Interesting Article concerning Halloween and Registered Sex Offenders - SD Tribune

As a safety measure, state authorities impose special Halloween restrictions on sex offender parolees living in their respective communities, barring them from putting up decorations or passing out treats.

And they have been required, at least in San Diego County, to post signs outside their homes discouraging any trick-or-treaters from approaching.

A lawyer and activist from Santa Maria, Calif. wants to change that. She filed a lawsuit filed this week in San Diego federal court on behalf of an unidentified Chula Vista man, accusing the state of violating his rights and those of other registered sex offenders.

“For them, Halloween truly is a night of horrors,” said Janice Bellucci, an attorney who is also president and founder of California Reform Sex Offender Laws. The organization is “dedicated to protecting the U.S. Constitution by restoring the civil rights of individuals required to registered sex offenders in California... ,” according to court documents.

Bellucci said many parolees don’t know how officers are going to interpret the special conditions on Halloween night. She said she’s received calls from people with concerns that they might be violating parole if they turn on the porch light for a visiting relative or if they post a pumpkin drawing on the refrigerator created by one of their own children.

“They don’t know truly what is required of them.,” Bellucci said, adding that if a parolee makes the wrong decision, he or she could end up back in custody.

“There’s some pretty big stakes here,” she said.

Officials with the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the defendant in the lawsuit, said this week that they had received the lawsuit but were unable to comment on the specifics.

For more than 20 years, the department has run what it calls “Operation Boo,” a statewide Halloween night event in which parole officers and other law enforcement conduct compliance checks on known sex offenders. The goal is to make sure that sex offender registrants aren’t attracting children to their homes on a night when kids are roaming the streets in search of candy.

Under California law, offenders convicted of certain types of sex crimes can be required to register with law enforcement officials, notifying them where they are living. Megan’s Law, passed by the Legislature in 2004, gave the public access to that information via the Internet. Previously, such information had to be accessed in person by visiting a police or sheriff’s station.

The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reported last year that it was responsible for supervising about 11 percent of the nearly 92,000 sex offenders in California. Under Operation Boo, the special conditions of parole for sex offender registrants on Oct. 31 were as follows:

  • A 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew during which parolees must remain indoors;
  • All exterior lights of their homes must be turned off so that it looks as if no one is home;
  • No offering of Halloween candy and no Halloween decorations allowed;
  • During the curfew, sex offender parolees may only open the door to respond to law enforcement.

The department’s website doesn’t specifically say that sex offender parolees have to post a sign outside their residences, shooing away trick-or-treaters.

“The general policy on Operation Boo does not have any requirement to affix a poster to their homes,” Luis Patiño, a spokesman for the department, said Friday.

But Bellucci said she learned from her client, the plaintiff identified in the lawsuit only as John Doe, that there is such a requirement in San Diego County. She said she confirmed that information with her client’s parole officer and she also has it in writing.

In 2013, when the Union-Tribune went with parole officers on an Operation Boo sweep in San Diego, the signs were seen at least two locations, in National City and Chula Vista. One read, “Not Participating in Halloween Activities. No Trick or Treaters,” and another that read in part, “Sorry, no candy.”

According to the lawsuit, requiring parolees to post signs on their front doors compels speech in violation of their First Amendment rights. It also invites harm to themselves, the people they live with and their property by forcing parolees to “advertise” their status as registered sex offenders.

Bellucci said some offenders have been killed as a result of what she described as “vigilante violence.”

She also contends in the suit that state authorities enforce the Halloween policy in an “arbitrary and unreasonable manner,” taking no account of the age of a sex offender’s conviction or whether it involved a crime against a child.

The unnamed plaintiff in the lawsuit is required to register as a sex offender because of an offense that occurred before 1985 and did not involve a child. Since then, he has not committed another sex offense, and is currently on parole because of a drug-related conviction, according to court documents.

Bellucci has filed similar lawsuits against the cities of Simi Valley and Orange over special Halloween restrictions on registered sex offenders — “registered citizens,” as she prefers to call them — including mandatory sign requirements. She said officials repealed the laws and the suits were dismissed.

“Everybody is saying this is about keeping children safe, but we need to do it as effectively as possible,” said Bellucci, adding that she is a mother of two.

She said she believes policies like the one imposed by the state give citizens a false sense of security by encouraging them to look for danger only among those people listed on the Megan’s Law database.

She says the rate of reoffense for a sex offender on parole is low, and that children are much more likely to be harmed by someone they know than by a stranger.

Last year, parole agents arrested 62 of the 1,294 sex offender parolees who were contacted during Halloween night compliance sweeps throughout the state. The arrests were for possession of child pornography, narcotics, weapons and other parole violations, state authorities said.

New charges were filed against 10 of the parolees who were contacted, and six were found to be out of compliance with the registration requirements.

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