Sex offender law unfair to homeless, court saysA provision of Georgia's sex-offender registry law is unconstitutional because it fails to inform the homeless who have no address how they can comply with the statute, the state supreme court ruled today.
The decision was a huge legal victory for William James Santos, charged 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, one of the harshest in the nation, requires sex offenders to provide a route or street address within 72 hours after being released from custody or moving to a new address. The law states that an offender cannot use “homeless” as an address.
Santos had lived at a homeless shelter in Gainesville and correctly gave that address on the registry. But in July 2006, he was forced to leave it. For the next three months, Santos was homeless and could not give an address and comply with the statute. In October 2006, Santos was arrested and indicted for the second offense.
Santos’ lawyer had argued that the registry law made being homeless a crime.
In its opinion on Monday, the court said the law provides no standards or guidelines that would put homeless sex offenders without a street or route address on notice of what is required of them. This leaves them to guess as to how to achieve compliance 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
Read the court's decision here and the Southern Center for Human Rights brief here. Read The Atlanta Journal-Constitution report here.
And check out this previous post about Larry W. Moore Jr., who faced a similar fate.