Home > Constitution, Education, Legal / Official Info, News / Blog Sites > Georgia Court Rules Sex Offender Law Unconstitutional

Georgia Court Rules Sex Offender Law Unconstitutional

October 30, 2008

Atlanta Journal-Constitution : Court: Sex offender law unfair to homeless.
wrdw.com : Georgia Supreme Court rules sex offender law unconstitutional.
Jurist Legal News(jurist.law.pitt.edu) :Georgia high court declares sex offender laws unconstitutional for homeless.

The Georgia Supreme Court on Monday declared unconstitutional a provision of the sex-offender registry law that was criticized for making homelessness a crime.

The state registry law, one of the toughest in the nation, made it a crime if a sex offender were homeless and could not register a specific street or route address at the local sheriff’s office.

In a 6-1 decision, the state Supreme Court said the law provides no direction for homeless sex offenders who have no street or route address. This makes them have to guess as to how they can comply with the law’s reporting provisions, the decision said. This lack of direction “leads to arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement,” said the opinion, written by Justice Hugh Thompson. The registration requirements are “unconstitutionally vague,” the court found. Justice George Carley issued the lone dissent.

The ruling was a huge legal victory for William James Santos, charged in Hall County for failing to register a new address in the sex-offender registry. Because this would have been his second failure-to-register offense, he faced a mandatory life sentence. The law requires an offender to report his or her address within 72 hours after being released from custody or moving to a new address.

Santos had lived at the Good News at Noon homeless shelter in Gainesville and, during that time, correctly gave the shelter’s address on the registry. But in July 2006, he was forced to leave. Over the next three months Santos was homeless and could not give an address or comply with the statute. In October 2006, Santos was arrested and indicted for failing to register. In jail for more than a year awaiting trial, Santos should soon be freed, said his lawyer, Hall County public defender Adam Levin.

“The court recognized that fairness is important for everybody, even the unpopular people in society,” Levin said. He added that even though the address requirement is no longer constitutional, he will encourage Santos to let local law enforcement know where he is living.

“This law was so poorly drafted it was contrary to public safety,” Weber said. “It was putting homeless persons in a situation where, if they said, ‘Hey, I’m homeless,’ they’d go to jail. It encouraged them not to report their addresses, which means no one would know where they lived.”

%d bloggers like this: