October 28, 2008

Georgia sex offender law unconstitutional

At last week's Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) conference in Atlanta, Sarah Geraghty of the Southern Center for Human Rights gave a compelling talk about the inhumanity of Georgia’s sex offender laws, the most draconian in the nation.

Blog readers may recall that Georgia is the state that made devoted mother Janet Allison a homeless, jobless leper simply for allowing her daughter's boyfriend to move into the family home after the daughter became pregnant. (See "Sex Offender Laws Gone Amok, April 10, 2007.)

In Alaska, as national news demonstrates, she might be congratulated. But not in Georgia.

The explicit goal of Georgia legislature was to force all sex offenders to leave the state. And no one was harder hit than the homeless. Homeless offenders were criminalized for not having a valid address to supply to the registry. The second such offense was punishable by life in prison. Yes, you read that right. Life in prison.

Almost as soon as the eloquent Ms. Geraghty left the ATSA podium, however, Georgia's Supreme Court struck down the homelessness provision of the law. In Monday's 6-1 decision, the court found the law unconstitutional because it fails to give homeless offenders a mechanism to comply.

Geraghty's group had brought the case on behalf of William James Santos, who was kicked out of a Gainesville homeless shelter and then arrested for failing to register with Georgia's sex offender list.

As reported in the New York Times, this is one of several challenges to the 2006 law.

Geraghty told the ATSA convention that it won't be the last. Around the nation, she is seeing signs of change; courts in several states have struck down various provisions of the new laws.

The case, Santos v. State, is online here.

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