Local News

Judge to decide legality of N.C. sex offender restrictions

Posted November 12, 2009 5:59 p.m. EST
Updated November 12, 2009 6:44 p.m. EST

— A Superior Court judge said Thursday that he needs some time to decide whether to strike down a portion of the state's sex offender laws.

James Nichols, a registered sex offender, challenged the constitutionality of the laws following his March arrest at Moncure Baptist Church. The church has a nursery and regularly scheduled programs for children, and state lawmakers expanded restrictions on sex offenders last year by banning them from being within 300 feet of any place intended for the use, care or supervision of children.

Following a two-hour hearing on Oct. 29 and another hearing Thursday afternoon, Judge Allen Baddour said he would take the issue under advisement and issue a ruling later.

"(The law) is overbroad, and it can't be interpreted in a rational way," said Glenn Gerding, Nichols' attorney.

Gerding and Ken Richardson, an attorney for Frank DeMaio, another sex offender challenging the state law, said the restrictions prevent them from going to church.

"What church does not have young people attending?" Richardson asked.

Thirty-six states establish zones where sex offenders cannot live or visit. Some states provide exceptions for churches, but many do not.

Assistant Chatham County District Attorney Kayley Tabor said sex offenders could attend a church that doesn't have a Sunday school, nursery or youth programs. They also could get private counseling from ministers, she said.

"These two defendants are who the legislature, I believe, had in mind when they wrote that statute," Tabor said.

Nichols was convicted twice of indecent liberties with a teen girl and most recently of attempted second-degree rape in 2003. DeMaio was convicted twice of taking indecent liberties with children.

Lt. Steve Maynor of the Chatham County Sheriff's Office said he warned both men that they might be breaking the law by going to church and that he arrested them only after someone in the church complained about their presence.

If Baddour declares the law unconstitutional, the case could be appealed to the state Supreme Court.