Fri, Nov 23, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Georgia Supreme Court strikes down sex offender law

TOO RESTRICTIVE US courts have begun to show their discomfort with new laws imposing residency restrictions

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , ATLANTA, GEORGIA

The Georgia Supreme Court unanimously struck down a state law on Wednesday that limited where registered sex offenders could live, ruling that the statute was so restrictive it unconstitutionally deprived the offenders of their property rights.

The law, described when it was adopted last year as the nation's toughest restriction on sex offenders, prohibited the offenders from living within 304.8m of schools, churches or any other place that children might congregate, including more than 150,000 school bus stops in the state.

The ban applied even when a school, a church or the like opened in an area where an offender was already living.

"Under the terms of that statute, it is apparent that there is no place in Georgia where a registered sex offender can live without being continually at risk of being ejected," said the seven-member court's opinion, which was written by Presiding Justice Carol Hunstein.

The court ruled that the statute violated Fifth Amendment protections against the public taking of private property without compensation.

The law "looms over every location" that registered sex offenders might choose to call home, with the potential to force them from their residence any time "some third party chooses to establish any of the long list of places and facilities encompassed within the residency restriction," Hunstein wrote.

The law was challenged by Anthony Mann, 44, of Hampton, Georgia, who pleaded no contest in 2002 to a North Carolina charge of taking indecent liberties with a child.

"It just didn't even pass the smell test," said attorney Stephen Bailey Wallace, who represented Mann before the justices. "It's terribly myopic."

State Representative Jerry Keen, a Republican who sponsored the legislation, said the court had superseded the will of both the legislative and executive branches of Georgia's government. Keen vowed to redraft the law and reintroduce it in January.

"In the meantime, convicted felony sex offenders will be allowed to live next door to day care centers, school bus stops or anywhere else they choose," Keen said in a statement.

But courts around the US have begun to show their discomfort with new state laws that impose such residency restrictions, which in some cases are so broad they have forced sex offenders to become homeless when they cannot find an address that meets the legal requirements. Wednesday's ruling applies only to the residency restrictions of Georgia's law.

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