Monday, June 14, 2004
Sex Offender Web ‘Pin Maps’ Permissible, C.A. Rules
By a MetNews Staff Writer
“Pin maps” posted on a city police department’s Web site showing the general location of residences of registered sex offenders violated neither California’s “Megan’s Law” nor an offender’s constitutional rights, the First District Court of Appeal ruled Friday.
The Web site maintained by the Fremont Police Department was challenged by Jeffrey Garett Fredenburg, a Fremont resident from May 2001 until April 2002 who was required to register as a sex offender as a result of a misdemeanor child molestation conviction. He claimed that as a result of the purple dot—symbolizing the residence of a serious sex offender—placed on the map at the block where he lived with his parents, neighbors discovered his presence and harassed him until he moved.
Writing for Div. One, Presiding Justice James J. Marchiano said the city’s summary judgment motion was properly granted by Alameda Superior Court Judge Steven A. Brick. Though Megan’s Law bars public release of the names and addresses of “serious”—as opposed to “high-risk”—sexual offenders unless police have reasonable cause to suspect the offender poses a risk to a child or other person, Marchiano said the map complied with the law because it included neither Fredenburg’s name nor his street address.
A congressional mandate that states enact laws providing for notification to communities about sex offenders living in their midst was passed in 1994 in the wake of the abduction, rape and murder of a seven-year-old New Jersey girl, Megan Kanka, by a neighbor with a history of child sex convictions. The mandate conditioned the receipt of specific law enforcement funding on the adoption of such laws.
California’s Megan’s Law was enacted in 1996.
In appealing the summary judgment, Marchiano said, Fredenburg did not “meaningfully dispute” the fact that neither his name nor his address was disclosed by the Web map. Instead, the presiding justice explained, he argued that because the law sometimes refers to “address” and sometimes to “street address,” there must be a distinction between the two, with “address” meaning location.
“By any reasonable and commonsense view, given the context of the statute and the legislative intent behind it, the terms ‘address’ and ‘street address’ mean the same thing,” Machiano wrote. “Not every variation in phraseology in a statute is meant to draw a distinction between two different meanings. Here there is no reason to assume the Legislature meant one thing by ‘address’ and another by ‘street address.’”
“The pin maps are essentially little more than visual depictions of the general location of sex offenders. The statutory framework of Megan’s Law does not suggest that this type of generalized, non-identifying information is precluded.”
Nor, the presiding justice said, did the maps violate Fredenburg’s right to privacy under either the federal or state constitutions.
“There is no federal constitutional right to privacy in the general location of one’s residence, which is not the sort of information that is considered private,” Marchiano reasoned, adding:
“Even if the pin maps did disclose his street address, plaintiff could not show a violation of his right to privacy. Informational privacy rights are not absolute, and may bow to a legitimate state interest.”
Turning to Fredenburg’s state constitutional claim, the presiding justice declared:
“Neither does one have a right of privacy under the California Constitution in the general location of one’s residence. Such essentially public information is not surrounded by a legally protected privacy interest within the meaning of Hill v. National Collegiate Athletic Assn. (1994) 7 Cal.4th 1..., the polestar of privacy cases. A person’s general location is not the type of core value, informational privacy explicated in Hill.”
The case is Fredenburg v. City of Fremont, A103685.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company