Alabama cannot ban sex offender parents from living with kids, US judge rules

On Behalf of | May 31, 2024 | In The Media

Jan 11 (Reuters) – An Alabama law that bars people convicted of a sex offense involving a minor from living with a child, including their own, unconstitutionally violates the rights of parents to care for their children, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge R. Austin Huffaker in Montgomery, Alabama, in a ruling, on Wednesday sided with a father who had, years before his son’s birth, been convicted of possessing child pornography and was barred under state law from living with him.

The judge said the law infringed the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment by violating the right of parents to the care, custody and control of their own children, a “fundamental right” long recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Huffaker, an appointee of Republican former President Donald Trump, called the “overbreadth” of Alabama’s lifetime ban on sex offenders residing with children or conducting overnight visits with them “breathtaking,” noting the lack of exceptions.

The law treats all sex offenders the same, he said, regardless of whether they are the “worst offenders” like rapists or “a 19-year-old male college freshman convicted for downloading sexually explicit content of his 16-year-old high school girlfriend.”

“No other state has crafted or enacted such a broad, unyielding rule in this context,” Huffaker wrote.

Paul Dubbeling, a lawyer for the plaintiff, called the ruling a win for not just his client, Tuscaloosa County resident Bruce Henry, “but the principle that it is vitally important to safeguard everyone’s constitutional freedoms.”

Henry challenged the ban in 2021, the same year his wife gave birth to their son. Before getting married, he had pleaded guilty in 2013 to possessing child pornography.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, a Republican who defended the law in court, filed a notice of appeal soon after the ruling. The state contended that the residency restrictions further its interest in protecting vulnerable children.

The Alabama Sex Offender Registration and Community Notification Act, which was adopted in 2013, is one of the strictest sex-offender laws in the nation and is unique in its restrictions on parents.

While other states restrict where registered sex offenders can reside in relation to children, no other state categorically bars adult sex offenders convicted of crimes involving minors from residing with their own children, according to another of Henry’s lawyers, Algert Agricola.

The case is Henry v. Abernathy, U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, No. 2:21-cv-00797.

For Henry: Algert Agricola of Agricola Law and Paul Dubbeling of Paul M. Dubbeling PLLC.

For Alabama: Richard Mink, Benjamin Seiss and Charles McKay of the Alabama Office of the Attorney General