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Georgia high court declares sex offender laws unconstitutional for homeless

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Georgia [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] on Monday that current state laws regarding sex offenders are unconstitutional as applied to homeless people. The ruling was in response to the appeal of William James Santos, a homeless sex offender indicted for failing to register a new address as required by the Official Code of Georgia section 41-1-12 [legislative materials, PDF]. In defining the term "address," subsection (a)(1) of the Georgia code specifically states that "homeless does not constitute an address." Punishments for failing to register in Georgia are severe, ranging from ten to thirty years of imprisonment. A repeated offense of failure to register is punishable by life in prison. The state court determined that the current law "does not give homeless sexual offenders without a residence address fair notice of how they can comply with the statute’s registration requirement," reversing the appellant's indictment. As an alternative, the court cited section 290.011 [legislative materials, text] of the California Penal Code which contains stipulations for homeless sex offenders to follow in order to comply with registration laws. AP has more.

Last year the Georgia Supreme Court overturned [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] a law that would prohibit sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of areas where children gather on the grounds that it was overly restrictive. Earlier this year New Jersey and Indiana [JURIST reports] also overturned similarly restrictive laws. Sex offender laws have been increasingly criticized [JURIST report] for limiting residence options and for promoting ostracization.

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