Wednesday, March 04, 2020

Supervision of Sex Offender's Church Attendance Upheld

In State of Washington v. Mecham, (WA App., March 2, 2020), a Washington state appellate court rejected a free exercise challenge to a community custody condition imposed on a convicted sex offender. Under a negotiated plea agreement, appellant, among other things, was prohibited from attending church services unless accompanied and supervised by an adult aware of his offenses and approved by his Community Corrections Officer.  In upholding the prohibition, the court said in part:
Mecham’s crime involved abusing an unsupervised child at church. The day of the offense, Mecham was attending church with his mother, father, and older brother. Mecham has failed to show that these members of his family, who presumably know his offense, will be unable to supervise his attendance at church. Thus, from the record, Mecham will be able to continue attending church services in the same manner as before his conviction.
Further, even if the restriction unduly burdened Mecham’s free exercise, the restriction satisfies strict scrutiny....
The State has a compelling interest to protect families who attend church services from Mecham. Mecham committed the offense in a church. He abused a seven-year-old in the church playroom while the congregation enjoyed lunch upstairs....  Mecham needs supervision to prevent this type of contact.