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Apr 17, 2012 1:45 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Judge Could Overrule Sex Offender Residency Restrictions

Apr 20, 2012 11:27 AM

A federal judge is poised to decide whether Suffolk County and Southampton Town are permitted to say where registered sex offenders can and cannot live once they are released from prison.

A Suffolk County law passed in 2006 forbids sex offenders, who must register with local authorities once they finish serving their sentences, from living within a quarter mile of a school, day care center or playground.

As per a Southampton Town law established in 2007, registered sex offenders cannot live within one mile of schools that do not provide buses for children who live within that distance to a school. It also forbids sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of schools that provide transportation for children living within a mile of a school. Additionally, the town law bars released sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a childcare center or municipal recreational facility.

Duane Moore, a registered sex offender who lives in Southampton, challenged the county and town laws in a 2010 lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, arguing that New York State law overrules both. He also charges that the local laws are so restrictive that they “amount to a sentence of banishment” that violates his constitutional rights.

In a March 30 memorandum, Judge Joseph F. Bianco signaled that he might overturn the local laws. He wrote that he would first decide whether the state law “preempts” the local laws, because that ruling would likely render the other issues in the case moot. He also noted that “every New York State court that has addressed the issue” found that state law overrides local laws in cases of sex offender residency.

“It is disappointing that this is where it seems to be headed,” said Southampton Town Attorney Tiffany Scarlato. “As it stands right now, it appears that that is the direction the court seems to be going.”

Ms. Scarlato added that her office is continuing to work on the case.

Vanessa Baird-Streeter, a spokeswoman for Suffolk County, said the county does not comment on pending litigation.

Suffolk County Legislator Kate Browning, who represents the Mastic and Shirley areas, was one of the sponsors of the county law restricting where sex offenders can live. She said it was meant to combat an influx of sex offenders from other areas, including other counties and states, into her district, and she is worried about the prospect of it being struck down.

“These laws were the only way to protect people in the community and deal with the saturation,” Ms. Browning said.

New York State law is less restrictive than the local laws, applying only to sex offenders who are on parole or probation. It bars those individuals from living within 1,000 feet of a daycare center or school. If the local laws are overturned, state law would apply.

There are 1,002 registered sex offenders now living in Suffolk County, according to the state registry of sex offenders. About half are Level 1, or deemed to be at “low risk of repeat offense.” About 300 are Level 2, or “moderate risk,” and 175 are Level 3, or “high risk.”

Bruce A. Barket, the attorney representing Mr. Moore, who has been designated a Level 3, or high-risk, offender, called the local laws “ill-conceived.” He said overly restrictive residency laws make it difficult for released sex offenders to recover and become part of society again, and are extremely difficult for parole officers and other authorities to enforce. He added that they often create concentrated pockets of sex offenders.

“I hope that common sense and good judgment could prevail with these laws and they would let them quietly die,” Mr. Barket said, “because they are, at best, pointless and, at worst, quite troublesome for the people involved.”

Mr. Barket also said the laws are what make it difficult for Suffolk County to house homeless sex offenders. All of the county’s homeless sex offenders are transported to trailers in Riverside and Westhampton to sleep every night. The Riverside facility is located in the shadow of the Suffolk County Jail while the Westhampton trailer is located next door to the Suffolk County Police shooting range on Old Country Road.

Mr. Barket said he expects the judge to issue a ruling soon, but couldn’t predict exactly when.

Mr. Moore, 53, was convicted of raping a 17-year-old woman in Nassau County in 1982, when he was 23, according to the state sex offender registry. He served 19 years in prison and was released in 2001. He completed parole last year.

His conviction is for first-degree rape, a felony, making him a Level 3 offender, according to the registry.

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