A registered sex offender did not break the law by hiring a 16-year-old boy to work for his landscaping business, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled Friday.
Edward Proctor was convicted in 2017 under a law prohibiting certain sex offenders from undertaking employment or volunteer services involving the care, instruction or guidance of children. According to court documents, he hired the teen in February 2016 for snow removal work and again in May 2016, driving him to job sites for weeding, mulching and other landscape work. He was arrested after the boy's mother typed Proctor's name into an online sex offender registry database.
Proctor, who is serving a three- to six-year prison sentence, appealed his conviction, arguing that the law prohibits accepting certain types of employment, not providing employment. The high court did not weigh in on that argument but agreed with his second argument that the law, which specifically mentions jobs such as teacher, coach and camp counselor, only prohibits activity that inherently involves children.
The court reversed Proctor's conviction and sent the case back to the lower court.
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"Reasonable people may disagree about whether it is a good idea to prohibit those with certain convictions from hiring minor teenagers or from entering an employment arrangement involving the supervision or management of minor teenagers. But any such prohibition must come from the people," attorney Thomas Barnard wrote in his brief to the court. "Here, the people of New Hampshire, through their elected representatives, did not enact either of these prohibitions."
Barnard did not return a call seeking comment Friday, and Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Woodcock, who argued the state's case, declined to comment.
In her brief, Woodcock cited lawmakers who backed the legislation that led to the law, saying their goal was to keep such sex offenders away from "anything that would bring them in connection with children." She also argued that the nature of the job was immaterial, and what mattered instead was that Proctor's employment involved the "care, instruction or guidance" of a minor.
"He not only employed the juvenile to clear the neighbor's driveway, he gave him rides to the landscaping locations and instructed him on how to fill the potholes," she wrote. "Transporting the juvenile by automobile obviously involved caring for him."
The court disagreed.
"We conclude that the statute does not preclude a person with a qualifying conviction from knowingly undertaking employment as a landscaper because landscaping is not a service that by its nature provides access to children," it wrote.