Cops Sued For Forcing Sex Offenders To Appear Amid COVID-19

By Kevin Penton
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Law360 (May 3, 2020, 8:02 PM EDT) -- Authorities in Fresno, California, are inflicting "cruel and unusual punishment" on registered sex offenders and violating the U.S. Constitution by requiring the individuals to appear in person for registration updates during the coronavirus pandemic, three offenders contend.

In an April 28 complaint filed in the Eastern District of California, those John Doe plaintiffs say the Fresno Police Department and the Fresno County Sheriff's Office are running afoul of the Eighth and 14th Amendments and the California Sex Offender Registration Act by requiring convicted sex offenders to physically appear for their 30-day, 90-day or annual registration updates.

The state statute only requires that in-person registration occur for those who move out of state, for those who change their residence address or for those who legally change their names, according to the complaint. It does not call for initial registrations or for 30-day, 90-day or annual updates to be conducted inside a police station, according to the complaint.

The first John Doe considers himself vulnerable because he is 71, the second John Doe is worried because he is 68 and has chronic medical conditions that include hypertension, and the third John Doe is concerned because he has asthma, according to the complaint.

"Plaintiffs are gravely afraid of contracting COVID-19 should they be forced to register in [Fresno Police Department] and [Fresno County Sheriff's Office] stations," the complaint reads.

There is no practical reason for registered sex offenders to have to physically appear for such updates, as authorities are simply confirming information that they already possess or are obtaining information that could be confirmed over the telephone or via a teleconference link, as police in Los Angeles and other locales are currently doing amid concerns over the novel coronavirus, according to the complaint.

"Requiring registrants to appear in person for periodic updates at police and sheriff's stations, and thereby exposing them to lethal infection by COVID-19, constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment," the complaint reads.

Representatives for the parties could not be reached for comment on Friday.

As of April 30, there were 564 confirmed COVID-19 cases and at least seven related deaths in Fresno County, according to the Fresno County Public Health Department's website.

The Eastern District of California should order authorities in Fresno to temporarily halt the practice, declare that state law does not require registered sex offenders to appear in person to complete periodic updates, and direct Fresno authorities to pay the attorney fees and costs of the three individuals who brought the lawsuit, according to the complaint.

Have a story idea for Access to Justice? Reach us at accesstojustice@law360.com.

--Editing by Katherine Rautenberg.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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Case Information

Case Title

Doe #1 et al v. Hall et al


Case Number

1:20-at-00311

Court

California Eastern

Nature of Suit

440(Civil Rights: Other)

Date Filed

April 28, 2020

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