Snyder outcome beginning to show its effects in Michigan

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By John Agar . . . Three Grand Rapids men on Michigan’s Sex Offender Registry have settled a federal lawsuit against the state over housing requirements that restrict where they can live.

They had been told they could not live in homes that were within 1,000 feet of a school zone.

Attorney Sarah Riley Howard challenged the school-zone law as vague, and said it is confusing. The settlement comes after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a similar Michigan case.

One of her clients, she said, was told by Grand Rapids Police Department that he and his wife could buy a house only to be told later it fell within a school zone.

A federal judge struck down some portions of Michigan’s Sex Offender Registry Act in a court decision handed down last week, documents show.

The settlement calls for the state to pay Howard $40,000 for her legal costs, which is a “significant compromise” based on the work involved in the case, the settlement said.

The city settled its case for $5,000 in January.

“They haven’t wiped (the statute) out but at least my clients (will not be) forced out of their homes by this pretty vague statute,” Howard told MLive and The Grand Rapids Press.

In 2011, the state changed the registry, adding the “school zone” rule, to comply with federal requirements.

The settlement follows a wider ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland in Detroit that found, in part, that “geographic exclusion zones,” such as the 1,000 feet provision, to be unconstitutional.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati did not agree with all of Cleland’s findings – it said the sex-offender registry amounted to punishment – but agreed with his assessment of school zones. It noted in the Detroit case that school zones in Grand Rapids cover a significant part of the city.

“Sex Offenders are forced to tailor much of their lives around these school zones, and, as the record demonstrates, they often have great difficulty in finding a place where they may legally live or work,” the appeals court said.

“And while it is intuitive to think that at least some sex offenders – e.g., the stereotypical playground-watching pedophile – should be kept away from schools, the statute makes no provision for individualized assessments of proclivities or dangerousness, even though the danger to children posed by some – e.g. Doe #1, who never committed a sexual offense – is doubtless far less than that posed by a serious child molester,” the appeals court said.

The appeals court said there was “scant evidence” that housing restrictions keep communities safer. It also found that registry rules added in 2006 and 2011 could not be applied retroactively.

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal.

Howard’s clients were retroactively required to comply with changes in the sex-offender law, originally passed in 1994.

She said that those on the sex-offender registry have difficulty finding housing, in part, because schools, particularly in Grand Rapids, own so much property.

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