Sex Offenders in My Neighborhood?
Many states have enacted Megan's Laws which allow for public notification of convicted sex offender presence within the community. In Colorado, individuals may obtain information about sex offenders through the Colorado Bureau of Investigation's website and through local law enforcement. The CBI website permits any private citizen to search his or her zip code and find the whereabouts of sex offenders that fall into the following categories: sexually violent predator, multiple offender, and failed to register. Other sex offenders are not listed on the website but citizens may request their information from local authorities.
In some cases, where the court determines that the sex offender poses a predatory risk to the community, the court may require community notification of the offender's presence. Community notification consists of a community meeting to which community members, schools, senior citizens, and recreation facilities in the area where the sex offender intends to locate receive a direct invitation. At the community notification meeting, local law enforcement personnel present educational information about sex offenders, risks to the community, and cautionary steps that parents and children may take to protect themselves, and then reveal the identifying information about the sexually violent predator. Community notification only occurs in the most extreme cases. In most, if not all, cases, offenders are only released into the community after they have served a criminal sentence, undergone evaluations, and participated in some form of rehabilitation.
Colorado law does not place specific restrictions on the dissemination of sex offender information by private citizens. In contrast, California makes it a misdemeanor offense for private citizens to copy and distribute information about convicted sex offenders. Colorado statutes do, however, recognize the risk of "vigilantism" arising from community notification.
Community associations confront the issue of sex offender presence in various ways. Most commonly, one of the following situations gives rise to a phone call to the association's attorney's office:
- The community received nofitication from local law enforcement that a sexually violent predator intends to move to the neighborhood.
- A Board member heard rumors from neighbors that a sex offender lives within the community.
- Community members or Board members are interested in investigating sex offender presence in the community and reporting the details of the investigation to all members in the monthly newsletter.
The known presence of a sex offender within a community association gives rise to unique issues. Many homeowner associations’ governing documents, as well as common law principles, make the Board of Directors responsible for maintaining “safe” conditions for association members. Thus, the Board of Directors may have a duty to act once Board members learn that a sex offender lives within the community. Initially, an association Board of Directors with knowledge of a sex offender’s presence will need to identify whether a duty exists to the members. If the Board decides to act based on a duty to the members, the question becomes one of degree; community associations face a normative dilemma in this regard. In other words, how should a community respond to a sex offender’s presence? That question does not come with a static answer.
Community associations encountering any issues related to sex offenders should consult with legal counsel.