We`ve all heard about sex offenders living under a bridge near Miami and the more than 100 sex offenders packed into a trailer park in St. Petersburg (better known as “pervert park”) — all because they couldn`t find a place to live. But did you know that Florida not only has a statewide 1,000-foot rule for sex offenders, but it also allows local governments to impose even harsher residency restrictions on sex offenders?
Florida is one of the few states that imposes statewide residency restrictions on sex offenders, even though every study has shown that residency restrictions have no effect at all on preventing sex offenses against children. Let`s take a closer look at Florida`s statewide 1,000-foot rule. You might be surprised that not all sex offenders fall under this questionable law.
What is the 1,000-Foot Rule?
Titled “Residency Restriction for Persons Convicted of Certain Sex Offenses,” under Fla. Stat. sec 775.215, Florida`s 1,000-foot rule prohibits most sex offenders from “residing” within 1,000 feet of where children regularly congregate:
A person who has been convicted of [several enumerated sex offenses], regardless of whether adjudication has been withheld, in which the victim of the offense was less than 16 years of age, may not reside within 1,000 feet of any school, child care facility, park, or playground.
This 1,000-foot exclusion zone is measured in a straight line from the sex offender`s property line to the prohibited location`s property line, even if the location isn`t visible from the person`s home. This makes it difficult to tell if a residence qualifies under the 1,000-foot rule just by visiting the location. Instead, authorities use a computer program called “Enforcer,” which tells them whether a property is too close to a prohibited location. A sex offender must then depend on state authorities to say where they may live, further complicating the process because working with state agencies is often a frustrating mess.
What Locations Trigger Florida`s 1,000-Foot Rule?
Florida`s 1,000-foot rule specifically says that people with certain types of sex-offense convictions may not live within 1,000 feet of:
a. A “child care facility”
b. A “park”
c. A “playground”
d. A “school”
Florida law defines each of these locations so that it`s not left up to some law enforcement agency`s interpretation of what qualifies as a prohibited location:
A “child care facility” is defined as “any child care center or child care arrangement which provides child care for more than five children unrelated to the operator and which receives payment, fee, or grant for any of the children receiving care.” Fla. Stat. sec 402.302(2).
A “park” is defined as “all public and private property specifically designated as being used for recreational purposes and where children regularly congregate.”
A “playground” is defined as “a designated independent area in the community or neighborhood that is designated solely for children and has one or more play structures.” sec 775.215(1)(c).
A “school” includes a private school, voluntary prekindergarten program, or public school, “but does not include facilities dedicated exclusively to the education of adults.”
Who Qualifies Under Florida`s 1,000-Foot Rule?
Not all sex offenders qualify under Florida`s 1,000-foot rule. Florida`s law restricting where a sex offender may live lists several enumerated sex offenses that require application of the restriction on someone. If a person required to register as a sex offender wasn`t convicted of one of those offenses, then the 1,000-foot rule doesn`t apply to them.
These are the offenses that qualify for Florida`s 1,000-foot rule:
Sexual Battery (sec 794.011)
Lewd or Lascivious Battery, Molestation, Conduct, or Exhibition (sec 800.04) Child Pornography Offenses (sec 827.071)
Sex Acts with a Minor Less Than 16 Over the Internet (sec 847.0135(5)) Traveling to Meet a Minor for Sexual Activity (sec 847.0145)
Someone convicted outside of Florida for an offense “similar” to one of these Florida offenses would also fall under the 1,000-foot rule. sec 775.215(3)(a).
While some Florida offenses don`t count as true “convictions” if adjudication is withheld, Florida`s 1,000-foot rule expressly says that even judgments where adjudication was withheld count under the law. sec 775.215(2)(a), (3)(a).
And the age of the victim matters. The 1,000-foot rule says that an offense qualifies only if the “victim of the offense was less than 16 years of age.” This is important because Florida sex offenses involving adults and older teens do not fall under the statewide 1,000-foot rule.
With that said, Florida does allow cities and counties to impose their own residency restrictions on sex offenders, as long as it`s equal to or harsher than the statewide 1,000-foot rule — and many local governments have done so. this means a sex offender may not qualify under the statewide 1,000-foot rule, but may still qualify under a local ordinance that might apply to all sex offenders, regardless of the statewide law.
Sex offenders on probation or conditional release will likely have the 1,00-foot rule as a condition of their supervision. Once supervision ends, some might not qualify under the statewide 1,000-foot rule and can live without restrictions.
Who`s Exempt from Florida`s 1,000-Foot Rule?
Not all sex offenders qualify under Florida`s 1,000-foot rule. As noted above, those offenses that aren`t listed, or in cases where the victim was 16 or older, the statewide residency restriction doesn`t apply.
So, too, are any offenses that are too old to qualify. The law says that only Florida State offenses that “occur on or after October 1, 2004,” qualify under the 1,000-foot rule. And any out-of-state sex offenses and federal sex offenses that are similar to the enumerated state offenses above only qualify if they “occurred on or after May 26, 2010.”
Anyone already living in a location is “grandfathered” in, meaning they don`t have to move just because the house behind them suddenly becomes a licensed day care, for example, or a school gets built across the street.
However, a person does not violate this subsection and may not be forced to relocate if he or she is living in a residence that meets the requirements of this subsection and a school, child care facility, park, or playground is subsequently established within 1,000 feet of his or her residence.
Anyone who is taken off Florida`s sex-offender registry is also exempt from the statewide 1,000-foot rule. sec 775.215(2)(c), (3)(c).
What`s the Penalty for Violating Florida`s 1,000-Foot Rule?
The penalty for violating Florida`s 1,000-foot rule barring sex offenders from living near places where children congregate depends on the severity of the sex offense itself.
A person who violates this subsection and whose [sex offense conviction] was classified as a felony of the first degree or higher commits a felony of the third degree …. A person who violates this subsection and whose [sex offense conviction] was classified as a felony of the second or third degree commits a misdemeanor of the first degree.
sec 775.215(2)(b), (3)(b).
In other words, if the sex offense was a first-degree felony, the penalty for violating the 1,000-foot rule is a third degree felony and punishable by up to 5 years in prison. If it was anything less than a first-degree felony, then the penalty is a first-degree misdemeanor and punishable by up to a year in prison.
IN CONCLUSION, I hope this information helps clarify that Florida`s statewide 1,000-foot rule does not simply apply to all sex offenders. It`s not a blanket rule. I also hope it helps distinguish Florida`s statewide 1,000-foot rule from local ordinances that might apply, even if the statewide restriction doesn`t.
Dale Chappell has written numerous articles on litigating sex offenses and post-conviction relief, and is the author Worse Than a Murderer: Doing Time as a Sex Offender.