NH Supreme Court: sex offender can’t attend church even with chaperone
New Hampshire v. Perfetto, No. 2009-647 (N.H. Sept. 17, 2010)
Sentence condition which prohibits man convicted of possession of pornography from attending church where minors are present does not directly infringe on the defendant’s free exercise of religion.
Before: Broderick, Duggan, and Hicks concurred with Conboy, who authored the opinion.
The New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court’s denial of Jonathan A. Perfetto motion to amend the conditions of his suspended sentence. Perfetto had pleaded guilty to sixty-one counts of possession of child pornography. The condition at issue stipulates “that the defendant have no contact with minors under the age of seventeen.” Perfetto sought amend that condition in order to “attend meetings at the Manchester South Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses while being supervised by an elder member of the congregation” and to “be allowed to converse among the entire congregation both before and after the meetings.” When the trial court denied his motion, Perfetto appealed, arguing that his constitution rights to religious freedom had been violated.
The court held that:
the condition in this case does not directly infringe on the defendant’s free exercise of his religion: it is instead facially neutral and applies to the defendant’s conduct regardless of whether he is in a church or elsewhere. Under these circumstances, we see no reason to require the State to show a compelling government interest.”
The court cited the distinction between the “freedom of belief, which may not be restricted, and freedom to act, which, as conduct, may be regulated” People v. Branson, 360 N.W.2d 614 (Mich. Ct. App. 1984) and concluded:
Here, the defendant’s freedom of belief has not been restricted. He may still practice his religion in ways that do not violate the condition of his sentences, including the use of books and video and audio recordings. He may also arrange bible study with elders from his congregation and attend meetings at a congregation where minors are not present.