Ind. bill would ban sex offenders from public libraries

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

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Registered sex offenders would be banned from Indiana public libraries if Rep. David Yarde has his way.

This month Yarde introduced H.B. 1100, which would create the criminal offense of “sex offender library trespass.”

The measure provides: “A registered sex offender who knowingly or intentionally enters a public library commits sex offender library trespass, a Class D felony.”

The bill does allow for an exception for entering public libraries to vote as long as the offenders don’t remain in the libraries longer than is necessary to vote.

If the measure gains any traction in the Legislature, it will be interesting to see whether someone will mount a constitutional challenge to it. In New Mexico, a registered sex offender represented by the New Mexico ACLU successfully challenged a complete ban on sex offenders in public libraries in Albuquerque. The mayor had established the ban by executive order.

In Doe v. Albuquerque, a federal district judge in New Mexico ruled in May 2010 that the ban infringed on Doe’s First Amendment right to receive information and ideas from public libraries.

“The Court concludes that the regulation in this case, as specifically written, which is a complete ban against registered sex offenders in any and all City of Albuquerque public libraries, is not narrowly tailored, nor does it leave open ample alternative channels for communication,” Judge M. Christina Armijo wrote.

However, in a case involving public parks, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the city of Lafayette, Ind., did not violate the First Amendment when it excluded a known sex offender from city parks. The 7th Circuit found in Doe v. City of Lafayette that Doe’s First Amendment rights were not violated because Doe did not go to the parks to express himself. The court majority reasoned that “because there is no expression at issue, First Amendment doctrine simply has no application here.”

Undoubtedly many sex offenders wish to go to public libraries to read and check out books. So there is an expressive-related reason for sex offenders to go to the library.

Under modern First Amendment law, a complete ban on sex offenders appears constitutionally problematic.

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