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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Supreme Court: County can't say where sex offenders can live

By Vivian Nereim, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court today unanimously invalidated an Allegheny County ordinance that had imposed residency restrictions on registered sex offenders, ruling that the ordinance conflicted with state law.

The ordinance, passed in 2007, banned convicted sex offenders registered under Megan's Law from living within 2,500 feet of a child care facility, recreational facility, community center, public park or school.

Six registered sex offenders sued one year later, alleging that the ordinance eliminated nearly all of the addresses in the city of Pittsburgh and much of Allegheny County as possible homes for them. Their lawyer, Donald Driscoll, argued that the restrictions -- forcing offenders to live in outlying communities, away from jobs, transportation, relatives and treatment -- were contrary to the goals of rehabilitation and reintegration.

U.S. District Judge Gary Lancaster struck down the ordinance in 2009, and the county appealed to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, which asked the state Supreme Court to hear the case.

Mr. Driscoll and Assistant County Solicitor Craig Maravich argued the case in October. The Supreme Court released its opinion today, ruling 7-0 that the ordinance was invalid.

"We're disappointed in the result," said County Solicitor Michael Wojcik. "We thought that our argument was sufficient to win the day, but apparently the Supreme Court disagreed with us, and we've got to live with that decision."

At this point, Mr. Wojcik said, the future of the Allegheny County ordinance rests with County Council, which might decide to amend it to bring it in line with today's opinion. The ordinance has not been enforced while the litigation was pending.

Mr. Driscoll said that he was pleased with the ruling, and expected it to affect similar ordinances across the state -- such local restrictions have become common, he said.

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