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January 30, 2013

Slate's Explainer: Can states exile people?

WASHINGTON — A Washington, D.C., judge ordered a man to stay out of the District of Columbia as a condition of his release from jail this week. Rives Miller Grogan was arrested for climbing a tree near the Capitol as part of a protest during President Obama's inauguration. Can you be banished from a state?

Probably not. Sixteen states have constitutional provisions prohibiting banishment, and appeals courts in many others have outlawed the practice. Although it remains on the books in a handful of states - the Tennessee Constitution permits exile, and Maryland's Constitution specifically prescribes banishment as a punishment for corruption - appeals courts usually overturn sentences of exile. There has been only one recent case of banishment from a state: In 2000, a Kentucky judge banished a domestic abuser from the state for one year. (The case never reached the state's high court.) The District of Columbia has no constitution, and its statutes don't mention banishment, so the legality of Grogan's exile is unclear. Judges typically get wider discretion in prescribing conditions of bail than in sentencing, but there is a strong trend toward invalidating interstate banishment under any circumstances.

In the view of many legal scholars, the permissibility of banishment depends on its geographic breadth. Banishment from the country is decidedly unconstitutional, at least for U.S. citizens. Chief Justice Earl Warren described denationalization of army deserters as "a form of punishment more primitive than torture." Banishment from areas around schools or day care facilities, however, is an increasingly popular punishment for sex crimes. Gang members are occasionally banished from their home towns to keep them from bad influences. Appeals courts sometimes approve these sanctions as long as they don't result in a functional banishment. For example, a Georgia law prohibiting sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a bus stop was declared unconstitutional in 2007. Legislators made clear that they intended to exile sex offenders from the state, and the restrictions left virtually nowhere to live.

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