Georgia Court Strikes Down Sex Offender Law

November 25, 2007

Lady LibertyThe Georgia Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down a statewide law limiting where registered sex offenders can live. The 2006 statute was considered one of the toughest in the nation. In striking down the law, justices ruled that the legislation, which prohibits convicted sex offenders from residency within 1,000 feet of churches, schools or other places where children might gather, is unconstitutional because it deprives sex offenders of Fifth Amendment property rights: specifically, the uncompensated public taking of private property.

Presiding Justice Carol W. Hunstein, in writing the seven-member court’s unanimous opinion, said: “Under the terms of that statute, it is apparent that there is no place in Georgia where a registered sex offender can live without being continually at risk of being ejected. . . [the statute] looms over every location.” The law also included more than 150,000 school bus stops throughout Georgia.

Hampton, GA resident Anthony E. Mann, 44, brought the lawsuit. Mann pled no contest to a charge of taking indecent liberties with a child in North Carolina in 2002. Upon learning that the Court ruled in his favor, Mann was quoted in The New York Times as describing what his life as a registered sex offender has been like: “You live kind of every day wondering if the sheriff’s office is going to come out and tell you that you have three days to move. . .It’s happened to me twice.” He said he filed suit in part to protect his family but also because he felt unfairly punished by politicians eager to obtain votes. “Politicians love to do the popular thing, and sex offenders are the popular thing. . .I think this will challenge them to rewrite that law, and this time I think they need to ask the experts what to do.”

Jerry KeenIn response, State Representative Jerry Keen (R-St. Simons), a sponsor of the legislation, said he would, indeed, rewrite the law in time for the state legislature’s next meeting in January. “In the meantime, convicted felony sex offenders will be allowed to live next door to day care centers, school bus stops or anywhere else they choose,” Keen said.

Sarah Geraghty, Southern Center for Human RightsWednesday’s ruling applies only to residency restrictions of Georgia’s law. A separate lawsuit brought by the Atlanta, Georgia-based Southern Center for Human Rights (SCFHR), is challenging parts of the law which bars sex offenders from working or loitering in places where children congregate. Sarah Geraghty, an SCFHR lawyer, applauded Wednesday’s ruling, saying: “It’s a law that’s impossible to comply with and impossible to enforce. . .And it does nothing to protect kids, because it forces sex offenders to go underground.”

Courts throughout the United States have begun questioning sex offender residency requirements because some of the new laws are so broad that it’s impossible for sex offenders to meet legal requirements, forcing them into homelessness.

Read more about sex offenders.

Photo credits: 11Alive.com and Gockel Fine Art

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