Many criminals pay for the consequences of their actions long after they have served their time in the eyes of the court. This sentiment is especially true for sex offenders, and rightly so, as they’ve committed serious sexual offenses against vulnerable individuals. They must adhere to strict guidelines for decades after a conviction, but when do measures taken to protect the public go too far in punishing a person for years after a conviction?
That’s the question that was asked by an Illinois appeals court this week while hearing a case of Marc Pepitone, a sex offender who was originally arrested back in 1999 and convicted of predatory criminal sexual assault. Pepitone was arrested again in 2013, but not for sexual abuse. Instead, he was arrested while walking his dog in the park, as Illinois has a law that bans convicted sexual offenders from a wide variety of public places.
Sex Offenders In Public Places
The law regarding convicted sexual offenders in public places states that it is a crime for convicted sex offenders to attend concerts, picnics, rallies, public parks or other popular public places in Illinois like Soldier Field, the Shedd Aquarium, the Adler Planetarium or the Museum of Science and Industry.
After being arrested for walking his dog in a public park, Pepitone was sentenced to 24 months of conditional discharge, 100 hours of public service and issued a $400 fine. He decided to appeal his case on the grounds that the banishment law is “unconstitutional on its face because it bears no reasonable relationship to protecting the public.”
In his argument, he claimed that the statute casts too wide a net, and therefore was unconstitutional.
“The specific issue is . . . whether an all-out banishment, of all child sex offenders, from all public parks . . . at all times. . .is a reasonable means of achieving the legislature’s stated goal of ‘protect[ing] users of public parks from child sex offenders and sexual predators.’”
Appeals Court Agrees
In a 2-1 decision, the appeals court sided with Pepitone, and his conviction for being a child sex offender in a public park was reversed. Justice Mary McDade wrote the majority opinion.
“We hold that section 11-9.4-1(b) is facially unconstitutional because it is not reasonably related to its goal of protecting the public, especially children, from individuals fitting the definition of a child sex offender or a sexual predator,” Justice McDade wrote. “Nor is it drafted in such a way as to effect that goal without arbitrarily stripping a wide swath of innocent conduct and rights he has as a citizen and taxpayer from a person who has paid the penalty for his crime. Section 11-9.4-1(b) is an outright ban on all individuals with certain sex offense convictions from public park buildings and public park property without any requirement that anyone—particularly a child—be actually, or even probably, present.”
In summation, the majority concluded that the law “criminalizes substantial amounts of innocent conduct” and “makes no attempt to assess the dangerousness of a particular individual.”
Justice Robert Carter penned the dissent.
“By keeping sex offenders who have committed sex offenses against children away from areas where children are present, the legislature could have rationally sought to avoid giving those sex offenders an opportunity to reoffend,” wrote Justice Carter. “Whether the statute could be more finely-tuned to accomplish that goal is a question for the legislature, not for the courts.”