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Posted: July 2, 2010 12:01 a.m.

Sex offender laws change

HB 571 relaxes laws for some registered sex offenders

Photo illustration by Brittany Thomas/

Strong laws: Sex offenders are still required to stay 1,000 feet away from places where children gather or are likely to gather, including playgrounds, schools and libraries. New laws have eased some restrictions for low-risk offenders.

A new law that was signed into effect by Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue May 21 could make things a little easier for some registered sex offenders, specifically those whose crimes are now considered a misdemeanor.

House Bill 571 updates and changes certain provisions of the law that relate to the classification of sex offenders changing, among other things, the living and working requirements for offenders. It could also, depending on the conviction date, drop all restrictions placed on sex offenders, including where they live and work. It would also allow for those convicted of a misdemeanor not to be added to the sex offender registry.

Under the new law, restrictions would be somewhat tailored to the offender. When it comes to employment or residence restrictions, laws would differ depending on the date of the original offense.

Residence/Employment Restrictions

If the offense occurred on or after July 1, 2008, an offender cannot live within 1,000-feet of a childcare facility, church, school, public or private park, recreation facility, playground, skating rink, neighborhood center, gymnasium, school bus stop, public library or public or community swimming pool — anywhere children can, or could, congregate. Offenders also cannot be employed by or volunteer at any childcare facility, school or church, or at a business or entity that is located within 1,000-feet of those organizations.

However, if the offense occurred between July 1, 2006, and June 30, 2008, offenders are now permitted to live or work within 1,000-feet of a public library; however, the rest of the rules would still apply.

Exceptions to that rule exist. If an offender was living in a home that he/she owns or leases and can provide adequate proof, then that offender could continue to live at the property regardless of what is built within 1,000-feet, be it school or skating rink. The same holds true with employment. If an offender has been employed prior to July 1, 2008, and a business such as a daycare is established after that date, the offender would not be in violation.

A big issue under prior law was the definition of a bus stop. Many children are picked up at their driveways by the school bus, making it nearly impossible for an offender to know where every bus stop was located.

Newton County Sheriff’s Deputy C.D. Ammons, who is on the sex offender registry task force, urged residents to err on the side of caution when it came to their children, saying that if parents or guardians felt uncomfortable about the behavior of someone around children, they should contact the NCSO. And although residents can look up sex offenders locally and see where they live in proximity to their homes, he advised against vigilantism of any kind against a person, even if he or she is a convicted sex offender.

Release from Registration/Residence/Employment Restrictions

HB 571 will also allow for some low-risk offenders to be removed from the state’s sex offender registry after the completion of their sentences, at a judge’s order. Those who are defined as low risk included incapacitated or disabled persons who are confined to a hospice facility or the like. Offenders in this category must meet the state’s definition of "totally and permanently disabled."

Other cases considered low-risk would be "Romeo & Juliet" cases, which involve, among other things, people convicted of statutory rape prior to July 1, 2006, where the victim was at least 14-years-old, but less than 16-years-old and the person convicted was 18-years-old or younger and no more than four years older than the victim.

Others who may petition for release of residence/registration/employment restrictions are those offenders who have completed their entire sentence, including probation and supervised release and who meet a strict set of criteria, including being classified by the sex offender registry review board as a Level I risk.

The new law would allow for each offender to be evaluated in terms of individual risk to the public. In the past, the only distinction was between sex predators — serial rapists and child molesters — with all other offenders lumped together. The state categorizes offenders on three levels, depending on how likely they are to offend again. Level one is the lowest risk, two it intermediate and level three is high.

If the petition is denied then, the offender must wait at least two years to petition the court again.

Volunteering at Church

The sex offender law from 2008 made it illegal for offenders to volunteer at a church; however, the law did not define "volunteer." Under HB 571, some offenders are still prohibited from volunteering at a church, but it does define the word.

The definition includes a specification, that the offender must not supervise "teaching, directing, or otherwise participating" with minors not supervised by an adult who is not an offender.

Homeless Persons

The 2006 sex offender law made it illegal and punishable by 10-30 years in prison, for a person on the registry to be homeless. The new law changes those requirements, allowing for a person to be homeless, but according to Ammons, the person must be very specific about where they spend their nights.

If, for example, the offender sleeps under the railroad trestle on Elm Street, they must specify that, and a law enforcement official must be able to find the offender there. The offender must also inform the NCSO of any change in sleeping arrangements within 72-hours of the change.

Newton County has a total of 164 convicted sex offenders. Of those, 28 are incarcerated and four have absconded. Three are female, the rest male. Their crimes range from statutory rape (35 convicted) to incest (three convicted). There are also 14 various aggravated crimes, including sodomy and child molestation, 22 convicted of sexual battery, five of rape and 71 of child molestation.

There are five people scheduled for pre-trial hearings regarding charges of sex crimes in two weeks and many more cases making their way through the judicial system currently.

"I don't think the bill will negatively impact prosecutions," said Melanie Bell, Assistant District Attorney who specializes in crimes against women and children. "Mainly, we get a lot of complaints that the sex offender registration law being "too complicated," so I’m hoping this will simply and clarify things for those who have to register."

For questions or concerns, contact Ammons at (678) 625-1400. For those interested in checking on sex offenders in their area, visit www.newtonsheriffga.org and click on sex offender registry.

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