The Sex Offender Next Door

Law is Useless Without Enforcement

James Donnelly, the registered sex offender and new neighbor of Wildwood Elementary School, in Piedmont, is the official guinea pig of a law that never quite reached puberty. Jessica’s Law — mandated in 2006 after its nine-year-old namesake was raped and murdered by a convicted sex offender — requires a minimum 2,000-foot distance separating the residence of a sex offender from any school in California.

But this alleged step in the right direction to safeguard kids from regular perverts has proven to be in the case of Donnelly, nothing much more than a crinkled bulletin board memo that even the government is shrugging off.

Creating a law with no explicit consequences for violation is useless for obvious reasons. If no one’s going to get cuffed, what’s stopping the nearest kiddie-porn collector from moving next to a nest of preschoolers and choosing his next victim? The fact that no one is enforcing Jessica’s law — as evidenced by the fact that the Piedmont sex offender is still a leisurely stroll away from Wildwood’s gates — is a cause for nationwide concern. If proper punishments isn’t built into the law — and it could be as simple as an eviction notice — another child could be hurt — and we won’t be able to say we did all we could to prevent the situation.

— Kelsey Marrujo

Senior Staff Writer

Not All Sex Offenders Are ‘Offensive’

No one wants to live next door to a sex offender — but not all those on the sex-registry list are as menacing as you think.

After being convicted of rape, there’s no doubt that James Donnelly is a dangerous sex offender. But regulations like California’s minimum-distance law, which creates a 2,000-foot buffer between homes of sex offenders and schools or parks, also apply to those who have committed much lesser offenses.

In California, you can be placed on the sex-offender registry even for mooning someone or peeing in public. By classifying minor infractions as “sex offenses,” the goal of Jessica’s Law is diluted.

Similarly, Megan’s Law was intended to create a database to protect communities from dangerous sex offenders — but a college student who streaked across the field during a football game shouldn’t be lumped in the same category with the real sickos. As unpopular an initiative as it may be, California lawmakers need to reassess what constitutes a “sex offense.” Our current standards encompass anything and everything remotely related to indecency, grouping teenage mistakes alongside lifelong obsessions with naked four-year-olds. Jessica’s Law also often forces sex offenders to be pushed into the same part of a city. California is unfairly punishing milder wrongdoers by branding them with the worst of labels, for life.

— Cheryl Hori

Associate Opinion Editor

Children First — Offenders Second

Despite the fact that there’s a convicted sex offender living across the street from the local elementary school, Piedmont’s police force is absurdly lax on the issue, claiming that the situation is being dealt with and Donnelly is expected to relocate soon.

But such a glaring oversight should be cause for major concern. The 2,000-foot parameter established by Jessica’s Law is in place for a reason: to protect children from potentially risky scenarios, and provide less incentive for prior offenders. Such carelessness on the part of the Piedmont police force implies an underlying margin for further disregard of dangerous situations, exposing community members to perfectly avoidable danger in their own neighborhood.

Though the Alameda County district attorney and the state attorney general consider Jessica’s Law unenforceable — a huge problem itself — allowing sex offenders to choose their neighborhood without consideration of the law pushes well-founded community concerns to the wayside. Confining offenders to one part of the already crammed Bay Area might give the impression of a makeshift penitentiary, but given the alternative — of allowing them to live near schools — is certainly the lesser of two evils.

— Neda Salamat

Staff Writer