Ban On Sex Offenders Entering Public Libraries May Be Unconstitutional

NO GUNS, NO PERVS: Knox County has instituted a new ban on library access for registered sex offenders—but state law does not require it, and it may be unconstitutional.

NO GUNS, NO PERVS: Knox County has instituted a new ban on library access for registered sex offenders—but state law does not require it, and it may be unconstitutional.

Dirty old men, get the hell out of our libraries.

That’s basically the gist of a press release Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett’s office sent out late Monday morning, announcing that all registered sex offenders are prevented from stepping foot inside a Knox County library ever again.

“We are telling these predators to stay away or go to jail. No exceptions. No excuses,” Burchett is quoted as saying in the press release.

“I applaud the state of Tennessee for putting tougher regulations on these dirt bags who prey on our children, and I’m pleased that the Knox County Library system has a policy in place that will help protect the public,” reads a quote from Knox County Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones.

The new policy, which still allows registered sex offenders to check out materials provided someone else does it for them, was ostensibly put in place to comply with a new state law. However, the law doesn’t actually require any such action.

The text of SB 710, which passed both the state House and Senate unanimously in May, adds a new section to the Tennessee Code Annotated that reads:

“(a) Public library directors shall have the authority to reasonably restrict the access of any person listed on the sexual offender registry.

“(b) In determining the reasonableness of the restrictions, the director shall consider the following criteria:

“(1) The likelihood of children being present in the library at the times and places to be restricted;

“(2) The age of the victim of the offender; and

“(3) The chilling effect of the use of the library by other patrons if the offender is not restricted.

“(c) Nothing in this section shall prevent a total ban of the offender’s access to a public library so long as the criteria in subsection (b) are considered.”

The law also provides that a written notice of the restrictions must be mailed to the offender, and that anyone violating the restrictions can be prosecuted for criminal trespass. But there’s nothing in the law that requires any library to take any action, and there’s nothing in the law that requires a complete and total ban of all registered sex offenders, many of whom are not child molesters.

According to Library Advisory Board member Brooks Clark, the library administration was unaware of the legislation until a few weeks ago, when a man told library staff that he was a sex offender and asked what their policy was. Clark says the board discussed the issue at its last meeting but was unaware that an official policy had been set in place until the news broke Monday.

Clark, an occasional writer for this publication, didn’t state an opinion of the policy, but board member Lauren Rider says she has concerns about the new rule.

“I am a parent, and obviously I wouldn’t want to expose my children to predators, but I’m also a librarian and so I’m always concerned about access to information,” Rider says.

She also brings up the fact that not every registered sex offender is a child molester. “I worry about situations like if you have a 19-year-old who was convicted of statutory rape for having sex with someone two years younger or something, and he’s trying to better himself and needs to use the library to study for tests. I find it hard to say that someone like that should be banned.”

Burchett says that isn’t his problem.

“I don’t know what they’ve pled down to,” he explains in a phone interview, noting that some offenders were originally charged with more serious crimes. “What about the rights of the innocent children whose lives have been ruined? What about the innocent woman who has been raped? What about their rights?”

Burchett says he has zero concerns that he is violating the rights of sex offenders and isn’t worried about a lawsuit. The mayor of Albuquerque, N.M., issued a similar edict to Burchett’s in 2008, and the ACLU of New Mexico filed suit. The regulation was found unconstitutional in 2010, and the city’s libraries now allow access to registered sex offenders two days a week, provided they check in with security officers and avoid the children’s section.

Burchett says the county was aware of the New Mexico lawsuit, which is why the Knox County policy still allows sex offenders to check out materials and access the library website. When it was pointed out that many people patronize the library specifically to use the free computers, Burchett again says it isn’t his problem. “They can go to a friend’s house and use the friend’s computer,” he says.

But a glance at the court ruling in the New Mexico case makes it seem likely that the county could indeed have a lawsuit on its hands. The ruling states, “the City’s regulation is far more expansive than would appear necessary to combat the unquestionably legitimate evil the City has identified” and specifically states that the plaintiff’s lack of access to the library itself—the in-house reference materials, the periodicals, the meetings and lectures held there—“does not leave open ample alternative channels for communication of information ... [and] therefore creates ‘an unacceptable risk of the suppression of ideas.’”

Knox County is the only major library system in the state to have implemented a policy change based on the new law. The director of the Nashville Public Library was unavailable for comment, but the head of the Memphis library system says they are currently seeking guidance from the city’s attorneys before even considering how to approach the situation.

Eva Johnston, the director of the Chattanooga library system, says they are taking a similar wait-and-see approach.

“We’re very curious as to how [Knoxville] will enforce it,” Johnston says. “It’s a library. You don’t ask for identification from everyone who walks in the door.”

Indeed, enforcement does seem to be a big question. There’s now a sign up on the entrances to all the library branches saying that registered sex offenders are banned, but when a librarian at the South Knoxville branch was asked how he would know if someone was a sex offender, he laughed and shrugged his shoulders. “No idea. Just no idea.”

Library director Myretta Black seemed confused when questioned about the policy’s implementation. She said that the sex offender registry would not be cross-checked against the database of library patrons, but in an interview a couple of hours later, Burchett said it would be.

Black also said she was counting on some sex offenders to self-identify themselves. When it was pointed out to her that a sex offender breaking the law by physically visiting the library was unlikely to point out to library staff that he or she was breaking the law, Black said that other patrons would identify the sex offenders. Burchett said concerned parents would notify the library staff when they saw sex offenders after studying their pictures online.

“It’s a new policy and we’ll refine our procedures as we go along,” Black says.

According to the sheriff’s office, there are 323 registered sex offenders in the city of Knoxville and Knox County. It remains to be seen how many of them will still want to use the library.

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Comments » 8

paul101 writes:

[Burchett says the county was aware of the New Mexico lawsuit]

And still he proceeded to enact this law. It doesn't sound like a move a fiscally responsible leader would make. In fact, it sounds more like a Nazi Police State he’s trying to run. Common sense (and law) dictates that if society has deemed someone unfit to live within the community they are sent to prison for a period of time or indefinitely. If they are on parole or probation certain restrictions may apply. But if they have served out their sentence and have been deemed fit to live within the community they should be free to live and or visit anywhere they choose. If you attempt to restrict a free man’s movement within the community you are asking for trouble.

need_2_B_Fair writes:

Mr. Burchett and Mr. Jones. I know that you believe that you are protecting your town's children but have you read any of the published legal and/or psychological studies that have been done that indicate that this will NOT prevent child abuse? Do you know that a large percentage of the offenses are either non-contact or Romeo and Juliet teen romances where there was consensual (non-forced) sex? Do you know that 93% of all victims KNOW their offender according to the DOJ? Do you know that many offenders can be 100% rehabilitated?
If prevention is really the intent, maybe the library should offer classes on preventing child abuse instead of restricting offenders. Have your local experts come in and give parents some facts and sound advice about prevention. Have you ever talked to the parents of an abused child to see what they might say about this. Have you ever read anything that Patty Wetterling has written on the subject? If you haven’t maybe you should do so next time and act responsibly. We TRUST that you’ll do the RIGHT thing for all citizens. Our trust seems misplaced on this issue.

Rudy101 writes:

Until or unless there is a reasonable way to challenge such restrictions, and that a person is protected from future restrictions, this law and other laws like it may be IGNORED (includes residency restrictions, reporting requirements, community notifications, loitering restrictions and bans from public spaces).

If they use the registry to enforce this obviously illegal law, then it becomes a RIGHT to flee the registry and do whatever what one can do to avoid the registry.

The State is not allowed to put people on a list and then use that list to systematically banish a person from every segment of society, without so much as a hearing, and even DECADES AFTER a sentence has been completed.

These laws violate the very foundation of justice, fairness, and proportionality. They will not stop coming, regardless whether this law is upheld or not. Laws like these are a yearly legislative sport which ignores the prohibition on ex-post facto laws.

No free country in the world are passing laws that restrict people from the community without hearing. NONE. What makes you think you can justify such actions????

FFF writes:

Mayor Burchett's juvenile answers to a complex situation is very upsetting. Dean Rice may want to mention to Burchett that it is his problem. One of the many unfortunate results of Burchett being elected is that he is a steward of tax payer dollars. As a result, you cannot simply make a decree without understanding the ramifications and subsequent cost of defending such decree.

Considering it seems unlikely he could out debate a high school student in a mock trial competition, it makes you wonder how he would have fared against better competion in the General election?

sarena1964 writes:

Above "need_2_B_Fair", "...many offenders can be 100% rehabilitated?" Where the heck are you getting this information? It seems to me you are purposely making FALSE statements. On the contrary, many experts know that those who commit sexual offenses are acting on a psychotic urge that goes beyond mere anti-social tendencies that most criminals harbors. They see these types of criminals as compulsive and, therefore, unresponsive to typical criminal punishments. An average Pedophile will victimize over and over because it's a disease!

Additionally, the point above is perfectly stated that a just over 19 year old 'labeled' as a sex offender because he was with someone slightly younger is complex. The solution, those S.O.'s that commit crimes against children under 13 should be given a different desigation. Like Level III-13 (being the worst)and another would be Level III-10, this way it is clarified. The regular Level III's would have no distinction given.

As a survivor, these S.O.'s LOST their rights (pertaining to those who committed to an under 13yr old) PERIOD! Lastly, there should be MANDATORY shots given to them. BIG PHARMA is looking to make a lot of money on our young girls by giving them vaccines to prevent against a sexually transmitted disease with its vaccine. REALLY? Depo-Provera is said to stop the increase. Why aren't we spending more money to figure this out versus wanting to put braceletts and other monitoring on them! Just drug their impulsivity to nothing!

Read more at Suite101: Washington Rape Case Questions Rehabilitation: Prosecutors Attempt to Commit South Hills Rapist to State Care | Suite101.com http://www.suite101.com/content/washi...

karenyounger writes:

in response to sarena1964:

Above "need_2_B_Fair", "...many offenders can be 100% rehabilitated?" Where the heck are you getting this information? It seems to me you are purposely making FALSE statements. On the contrary, many experts know that those who commit sexual offenses are acting on a psychotic urge that goes beyond mere anti-social tendencies that most criminals harbors. They see these types of criminals as compulsive and, therefore, unresponsive to typical criminal punishments. An average Pedophile will victimize over and over because it's a disease!

Additionally, the point above is perfectly stated that a just over 19 year old 'labeled' as a sex offender because he was with someone slightly younger is complex. The solution, those S.O.'s that commit crimes against children under 13 should be given a different desigation. Like Level III-13 (being the worst)and another would be Level III-10, this way it is clarified. The regular Level III's would have no distinction given.

As a survivor, these S.O.'s LOST their rights (pertaining to those who committed to an under 13yr old) PERIOD! Lastly, there should be MANDATORY shots given to them. BIG PHARMA is looking to make a lot of money on our young girls by giving them vaccines to prevent against a sexually transmitted disease with its vaccine. REALLY? Depo-Provera is said to stop the increase. Why aren't we spending more money to figure this out versus wanting to put braceletts and other monitoring on them! Just drug their impulsivity to nothing!

Read more at Suite101: Washington Rape Case Questions Rehabilitation: Prosecutors Attempt to Commit South Hills Rapist to State Care | Suite101.com http://www.suite101.com/content/washi...

Sarena, being a sexual assault victim does not make you a sex offender expert. In fact, your comments show your lack of knowledge. Please do fellow victims like myself a favor and research before posting. First, the registry and all its forms are completely ineffective at reducing sex crimes. This has been empirically proven countless times. Second, therapy is highly effective in reducing sexual assualt recidivism. Third, sex offfender hysteria such as your posts prevent meaningful discussion about effective ways to keep children safe. Last, as a former victim you are statistically more at risk of sexually assaulting someone than a convicted sex offender. Perhaps we should put a chip in your arm, post your picture on the web and have you report to the sheriff every 90 days.

karenyounger writes:

The mayor and sheriff do not care that they will be spending tax payer money to fight an obviously unconstitutional ban. Nor do they seem to care that in the real world sex offenders rarely repeat sex crimes. These are lazy politicians with no platforms scapegoating an easy mark. Shame on you Tim Burchett and Jimmy Jones.

sarena1964 writes:

at "karenyounger". Cut the B.S. I NEVER stated "... the registry and all its forms are completely ineffective at reducing sex crimes...". Perhaps it is just RI then. Case and point, moved to RI and spoke to Mr. Doe at the State House who said there is a pile of DUST in the pile of those reformed compared to those re-offending. You can try to debunk with your idiocracy all you want. I research and push for laws to be changed, while you poke. I will not feed into parasites that waste my time. "sex offenders rarely repeat sex crimes" is the most bizzare statement you could have made and quite simple to flip you belly up. You took that from a webpage dated 5/1/01 (www.sexoffender.com) and while I will give you the credit for pointing out SOME S.O.'s do become reformed with therapy, these are not the pedophiles. I neglected to add I was a CHILD victim and therefore it is from that perspective I was sharing.

Fact, "Most crimes have a low recidivism rate, but this is not the case with sex offenders.

Recidivism among sex offenders is quite high, according to the United States Department of Justice." (10/19/06) "Although not all sex offenders reoffend, they are four times more likely than a criminal convicted of robbery, murder, assault or any other charge. Psychologists believe that recidivism is high among sex offenders because their desire to rape, molest or assault is a psychologically engrained predeliction."

Year's ago I used to watch a T.V. show, to Catch a Predator, read studies and stories, along with discussion with former victims and we know this is B.S. that they are not likely to victimize. The average pedophile will victimize over and over.

Your tone was meant to be offensive and judgmental versus forthcoming and fact finding. I therefore am comfortable in determining you are a mole and just plant out stupidity on behalf of your S.O. buds. Marcire all'inferno

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