People ex rel. Rivera v. Superintendent, Woodbourne Correctional Facility, No. 47 (N.Y. 2023)
Nature of Case: Petitioner, who was subject to Sexual Assault Reform Act’s (SARA) school grounds condition, prohibiting level three registrants under Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA) from coming within 1,000 feet of school and childcare facilities, filed application for writ of habeas corpus, asserting that retroactive application of school grounds condition violated Ex Post Facto Clause of United States Constitution as applied to him.
As practical matter, the SARA “school grounds condition” prevents the release of incarcerated individuals who have been unable to find housing that complies with SARA’s conditions. Individuals who are set to begin supervised release and are unable to find SARA-compliant housing are either transferred to residential treatment facilities or remain in prison.
Petitioner who has remained in prison past his supervised release date due to his inability to find SARA-compliant housing argues that these laws are punitive and therefore, as applied to him, a violation of the Ex Post Facto clause.
The New York supreme court agreed, granted Petitioner’s application, ordered New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) to release petitioner to parole supervision, and enjoined DOCCS from applying school grounds condition to petitioner. DOCCS appealed. The Supreme Court, Appellate Division, 200 A.D.3d 1370, 160 N.Y.S.3d 411, reversed. Petitioner was granted leave to appeal.
Holding: The New York Court of Appeals held that retroactive application of SARA’s “school grounds condition” did not facially violate Ex Post Facto Clause. In so holding, the Court placed great weight on the statutory provision’s rational connection to a non-punitive purpose, asserting “the temporary confinement of sex offenders in correctional facilities, while on a waiting list for SARA-compliant … housing, is rationally related to a conceivable, legitimate government purpose of keeping level three sex offenders more than 1,000 feet away from schools” (internal citations omitted). The Court further noted that it is unable to conclude from this record that prolonged incarceration is a common result of SARA, rather than an idiosyncratic effect.
Rivera, J. Dissent: Concludes that “the residency prohibition violates the Ex Post Facto Clause simply because failure to comply with it—both before and after release—results in the ‘paradigmatic’ punishment: incarceration.”
Halligan, J. Dissent: Argues that the majority does not “sufficiently grapple with whether mounting evidence that SARA-type restrictions have no beneficial impact on public safety (or worse yet, may be deleterious) renders SARA’s retroactive application excessive and thus violative of the Ex Post Facto Clause.”
News and Related Materials
- Allison Frankel, Pushed Out and Locked In: The Catch 22 for New York’s Disabled, Homeless, Sex-Offender Registrants, Yale Law Journal Forum (2019)
- Adam Liptak, Their Time Served, Sex Offenders are Kept in Prison in Cruel “Catch-22”, NY Times (2022)
- Denial of Certiorari & Statement by Justice Sotomayor – Ortiz v. Breslin