State Supreme Court weighs constitutionality of lifetime restrictions on child sex offenders
By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Supreme Court is weighing whether it is constitutional to impose lifetime restrictions on where a person can live after they’ve been convicted of a sex crime involving a minor.
“It’s been 21 years – almost 21 years since my conviction,” Martin Kopf told the court’s seven justices on Wednesday. “I have been totally offense-free. Not even a moving violation. But yet, they still say that I’m dangerous.”
Kopf, now 54, pleaded guilty in 2003 to aggravated criminal sexual abuse for an incident involving a 15-year-old boy. According to a published report of the incident, Kopf, who was a high school basketball coach at the time, was accused of sexually assaulting a member of his team during a sleepover at which he allegedly served the boy alcohol.
According to court records included in briefs filed with the Supreme Court, Kopf served three years of probation and reportedly has had no other criminal convictions since then. Still, because he was convicted of a sex crime involving a minor, Kopf remains subject to an Illinois statute that requires him to register for the rest of his life as a sex offender and prohibits him from ever living in certain areas.
Those residency restrictions cover any place within 500 feet of a “playground, child care institution, day care center, part day child care facility, day care home, group day care home, or a facility providing programs or services exclusively directed toward persons under 18 years of age.”
More than a decade after his conviction, Kopf and his wife were shopping for a home. They settled on a building lot in Hampshire, in Kane County. Before purchasing the property they checked with both the Illinois State Police and the Hampshire Police Department to make sure it complied with his residency restrictions. Records indicate both agencies told him that it did.
Kopf and his wife moved into their new house in August 2018. Three months later, in November, they were told there was a child day care facility within 500 feet of their home and, as a result, they would have to move.
Unable to find an apartment that met the residency restrictions and where the landlord would accept a registered sex offender, Kopf and his wife bought a travel trailer and took up residence in an RV park in Marengo. But they were soon evicted from there due to his status as a sex offender and, eventually, Kopf resorted to sleeping in the back of his pickup truck.
In court challenges, Kopf has represented himself while arguing, among other things, that the law enforcement agencies were negligent for failing to notify him that the property did not comply with the residential restrictions. He also argued the restrictions themselves were unconstitutional.
In a June 2021 ruling, Kane County Circuit Judge Kevin Busch dismissed most of Kopf’s claims. But he did declare the law unconstitutional, saying it violated constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection.
Specifically, Busch said there was no rational basis behind the residential restriction. He pointed to scientific studies showing there is little or no evidence to suggest such residency restrictions reduce the chance of someone reoffending. He also pointed to contradictions in the law, noting that an offender is free to live next door to a house where multiple children live, but not one where the parent has multiple children and also looks after someone else’s children.
Busch also noted that the law only restricts the residency of people convicted after the law took effect, while offenders who purchased their homes before the law took effect are allowed to stay there for as long as they choose.
Lawyers for the state, however, argued that the state has a legitimate and compelling interest in protecting children from sexual predator and that the law does not have to be perfect to pass constitutional scrutiny.
“Although the residency restriction may not protect every single child within the state of Illinois from living or being within 500 feet of the residence of a child sex offender, it does protect some children,” Assistant Attorney General Kaitlyn Chenevert told the court. “And this court (in a previous case) did explain that the legislature need not prevent every single evil in one statute.”
The court took the case under advisement and is expected to issue a decision within the next several months.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.
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