A registered sex offender was arrested and charged with failure to comply with his registration requirements by knowingly entering school grounds during operating hours without notifying the administrative staff of his presence and his registration status. He responded to the allegation by claiming that he was not “knowingly” on school grounds. He was convicted by a jury for failure to comply with registration requirements and appealed.
The court of appeals reviewed the testimony presented at trial. It was undisputed that the defendant was a registered sex offender.
A parent testified that he was at the Sacred Heart Catholic School to drop off his children. On that morning, the parent was approached by the defendant in the parking lot, which is not gated and functions as both a church parking lot and a parent parking lot for the school. The defendant approached the parent and told him he was hungry. The parent offered him some hash browns that he had bought that morning, but the defendant rejected the food. He then became agitated, and the parent asked him to leave the premises.
During this confrontation, the parent said schoolchildren, walking in single file with their teachers, were on both sides of where this was happening. He said he was preparing to call the police because he was concerned with the way the defendant was acting near the children. Before the call was placed, a police officer arrived.
The police officer testified that he was paid as uniformed security for the school and the church. He described his duties as watching children safely crossing the street, and watching for vagrancy or homeless people who could interfere with the day-to-day activities of the school.
The officer said he first observed the defendant when he broke through a line of children coming from the school to approach the parent’s truck. The officer went to investigate "to make sure nothing was going on."
As he approached the vehicle, the officer spoke to the parent first, who told him that the defendant asked for food and then turned down the food the parent offered him. The officer then walked toward the defendant to ask him what he was doing. The officer asked the defendant for identification, and the defendant immediately gave him his "sex registry card." The officer questioned the defendant as to whether he should be on a property with children during school hours, and the defendant was subsequently arrested.
The officer testified that on the day of the incident, the "entire premises" was being used for both school and church purposes. He explained that during school hours, the church parking lot is used for school functions. But he confirmed that there is no line separating the church from the school that would indicate when someone is crossing from the church to the school. The officer stated he never saw the defendant in the parking lot closest to the school.
Evidence was introduced at trial that there was no rule on how far the defendant has to stay away from a child if he is attending a church service, but that he was not allowed to go to the church during school hours if the church is considered a school.
The principal testified that a normal school day at Sacred Heart is Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. She said there also is an after-school care program and after-school extracurricular activities from 3:15 to 6 p.m. The principal described the school as across the street from the church but stated that the school is a parochial school and uses the church regularly for educational purposes and that religion is part of the school curriculum.
The principal testified that there were signs posted in the church parking lot explaining the layout of the Sacred Heart church and school. The church, the parking lot next to the church and the school parking lot were all considered "one entity, Sacred Heart parish." However, the principal acknowledged that the school cannot control who is in the church parking lot, and that the church frequently sponsored charity events utilized by homeless individuals.
She was not aware of the defendant ever attempting to breach the fence surrounding the school. According to the principal, the church and the school do not share the same address, but there are several signs in front of the church and school zone signs identifying the school.
The court of appeals concluded that there was enough evidence presented to the jury at trial to support a finding beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant violated his sex offender registration requirements. The defendant signed a Texas Sex Offender Registration Program form wherein he acknowledged a requirement that he not enter school premises without immediately notifying school administration of his presence and registration status.
Multiple witnesses testified that the school shared the parking lot with the church during regular school hours, that the school and church were considered one entity, and at the time of the confrontation between the parent and defendant, students were present and walking through or adjacent to the parking lot. Evidence also demonstrated that the defendant had to cross through a line of students to get to the parent’s truck.
The court of appeals upheld the defendant’s conviction.
Copyright© 2023 Texas Classroom Teachers Association® The Educated Choice® All rights reserved.