In 1994, the U.S. Congress passed the nation’s first sex offender registration law. Lawmakers passed the Jacob Wetterling Act in response to the kidnapping, sexual assault, and murder of a young Minnesota boy. The crime was unspeakably horrific in the early 1990s. Subsequent acts, most notably Megan’s Law (1994) and the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act (2006) modified federal registration requirements.
Since then, the number of sexual offenses has dropped dramatically. Experts confirm that the decline is real and not just due to fewer reports. So, as far as many legislators and advocates are concerned, the sex offender registration system is working, and so it is here to stay.
So, rather than mount constitutional challenges against Georgia’s sex offender registration law, it may be better for a Marietta criminal defense attorney to work within the system and minimize this collateral consequence of a sex crimes conviction.
Constitutional challenges to sex offender registration requirements were often successful back in the day. Early registration laws from the late 1990s and early 2000s often relied on subjective factors and imposed crushing registration requirements. Georgia’s law once fell into this category. But in 2006, the Legislature substantially re-worked the registration requirements. The modern, battle-tested version is much harder to challenge in court.
For the most part, only adults who are convicted of sexually violent felonies need to worry about registration requirements. The law includes:
- Offenses against minors (“[a]ny conduct which by its nature is a sexual offense against a victim who is a minor”), and
- Dangerous sexual offenses (any Title XVI offense).
Additionally, persons convicted of a sex crime in another state who move to Georgia may be subject to registration requirements. A criminal defense attorney may have some room to operate here. Not every state defines sex offenses against minors and dangerous sexual offenses the same way. So, even if the defendant had to register in one state, that’s not necessarily true in Georgia.
If the offense occurred in Georgia and the case is not strong enough to take to trial, a plea to a lesser-included offense that is not on the prohibited list might be an option. That’s especially true if the prosecutor’s witness is shaky or the case has some other problems.
If all else fails, an attorney could engineer a plea bargain which includes a mandatory Level I designation. As outlined below, it’s much easier to be removed from the sex offender list at that offender level.
Employment and Residency Restrictions
If you register as a sexual offender in Georgia, everyone knows it, because it is public record. Then again, pretty much everything is public record. Google your name and see what happens. If you pay a few dollars at a background check site, the results may be even more startling.
So, in many cases, the residency and employment restrictions are worse than the registry itself. Most of these restrictions contain 1,000-foot rules. A thousand feet is roughly three football fields. So, even if the area of concern is nowhere near the former offender, the harsh restrictions may apply. These restrictions include:
- Residency: An offender cannot reside within 1,000 feet of a school, day care, church, or “area where minors congregate.” In an area like Marietta, pretty much every place in town is within 1,000 feet of one of these prohibited areas. That’s especially true of the amorphous “where minors congregate” category. That could be a shopping mall, park, or a family-oriented restaurant.
- Employment: Unsurprisingly, people on the sex offender registry cannot work at a day care, school, or other such place. But it is surprising that these individuals cannot work anywhere that is within 1,000 feet of a prohibited place. Furthermore, sexually dangerous predators cannot work within 1,000 feet of a place where minors congregate. That restriction leaves out pretty much every employer in town.
Fortunately, there is a grandfather clause, at least in terms of the residency restriction. If a church, school, or anything else moves to within 1,000 feet of the offender’s residence, the offender does not have to move.
Assigning a Threat Level
Before the requirement takes effect, the Sex Offender Registration Review Board in Atlanta must evaluate all offenders and sign a risk level. That classification will be:
- Level I: Generally, Level I offenders committed lower-level dangerous offenses or offenses against minors. Or, perhaps there were some extenuating circumstances, like a Romeo and Juliet thing, except Juliet was a few months too young. Technically, these people have a low risk of re-offense and a low risk of hurting someone.
- Level II: Usually, these offenders have a criminal record and/or committed a more serious offense. In other cases, they express no remorse for their crime or perhaps do not understand the harm they caused.
- Level III: The dreaded sexually dangerous predator label is very hard to shake, both in public and in the Cobb County criminal justice system.
The threat level is almost directly related to the ability to de-register. Level I offenders automatically go to a judicial review process wherein the judge determines if they should remain on the list. Level II offenders may be eligible for de-listing, but they must wait at least ten years before they attempt to do so. It’s technically possible, but almost impossible, for Level III offenders to be removed from the list.
If the Board issues a Level II or Level III classification, the defendant can appeal, but the defendant must act quickly. The deadline to request an appeal is generally thirty days. The good news is that the defendant does not have to show error. The appeal is simply a reconsideration.
At the reconsideration hearing, the defendant can present independent risk assessments, character references, and other supporting evidence. Additionally, if the defendant had a substance abuse problem, and has overcome the addiction, that evidence is often compelling.
Connect with an Aggressive Lawyer
Georgia’s sex offender registration requirements are harsh, but do not necessarily last forever. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Marietta, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. Convenient payment plans are available.