published Sunday, November 13th, 2011

Georgia drops hundreds from sex offender registry

  • photo
    Detective Sergeant Mason Brewer, with the Walker County Sheriff's Office, browses the county website while working on updating the Walker County sex offender registry in this file photo.
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

AT A GLANCE

The number of sex offenders allowed to remove their names from Georgia's sex offender registry has increased since changes in the state's law took effect in July 2010.

July 2010 through October 2011 -- 819

2009 -- 536

2008 -- 514

2007 -- 479

Source: Georgia Bureau of Investigation


ELSEWHERE ONLINE

To see the state's registry, go to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation website www.gbi.georgia.gov and click on the sex offender link.

Hundreds more sex offenders have been allowed to remove their names from Georgia's registry since the state's law was relaxed more than a year ago.

More than 800 names have been taken off the registry since July 2010 when state laws were amended to give sex offenders who were convicted of crimes that are now considered misdemeanors a chance to clear their names. Nearly 300 were removed as a direct result of changes to the law.

But the new law also makes it easier for offenders who committed felonies such as child molestation and rape to disappear from the public eye if they meet the state's lengthy qualifications and get a judge's approval.

Once removed from the registry, offenders also could be freed from restrictions on where they can live, work or volunteer.

Georgia's sex offender registry law -- once considered one of the nation's toughest -- was challenged by civil liberties groups and critics claiming it was unconstitutional. House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, led the effort that resulted in last year's changes.

From 2007 to 2009, an average of 510 sex offenders per year had removed their names from the state's registry, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Allowable reasons for removal included death, deportation or being a first-time offender who had completed probation and all other state requirements and gone an additional 10 years without another offense.

But since the law changed, the names of 819 sex offenders have been removed from the list. Their names no longer can be found in the state's registry that anyone can access online to locate offenders.

This gives sex offenders considered to be low or no risk to society a chance at a more normal life and removes their stigma, advocacy groups and some authorities say.

But others worry that these offenders will commit another sexual crime.

"It's kind of like a judge granting a bond," said Conasauga Judicial Circuit District Attorney Kermit McManus. "There is a calculated risk."

MANY TO MONITOR

More than 20,000 sex offenders are registered in Georgia.

Within each county, the sheriff's office is responsible for monitoring where each offender lives and whether he or she is following the state's guidelines.

Of that 20,000, only 244 offenders are considered violent sexual predators required to wear a monitor for life, GBI statistics show. The rest of the offenders are considered a low or moderate risk or have never been assessed and assigned a risk level, officials say.

"That's a lot of people for the sheriff's office [to monitor]," said Tracy Alvord, executive director of Georgia's Sex Offender Registration Review Board. "They need to be spending time on violent offenders."

That's where the changes to the law kick in, Alvord said.

According to the Georgia Code, sex offenders who qualify to have their cases reviewed and their names possibly removed from the registry now include:

• Those at low risk to repeat an offense. The risk assessment takes into consideration the offender's age and how many years have elapsed since he committed the crime.

• Those convicted of a kidnapping that wasn't sexual in nature;

• Those who fall under the state's "Romeo & Juliet" clause for statutory rape. If the victim is between 14 and 16 and the convicted person is 18 or younger and no more than four years older than the victim, then the crime is considered a misdemeanor.

• The disabled;

• A person sentenced for a crime that became punishable as a misdemeanor on or after July 1, 2006.

Other requirements within these categories are lengthy and range from completing parole and probation to making sure the offender didn't use a deadly weapon during the commission of the crime.

But in the end the decision lies with the judge.

The state doesn't have control over who is stricken from the registry, said GBI spokesman John Bankhead. If the review board decides a person is a low risk, the Superior Court judge in the circuit the person was convicted in hears the case and makes a decision.

So far, judges across Georgia have released 136 offenders from the list, while 160 were removed automatically because they no longer were required to register based on the new law.

"not a simple process"

The Southern Center for Human Rights filed a federal class-action suit against the state five years ago seeking improvements to its sex offender laws.

Sarah Geraghty, an attorney with the advocacy group, said last year's changes improved their fairness, particularly where misdemeanor offenders are concerned.

While the advocacy group represents only clients seeking to get off the registry in extreme cases, Geraghty said it gets calls daily from people interested in getting their names removed from the list.

Page Pate, an Atlanta-based defense attorney, said his experience is similar.

So far he has represented only half a dozen clients on the registry because the offender first must meet the state's lengthy requirements to file a petition. But Pate said he won the two cases that have been heard by a judge.

"As you might expect, the less egregious [the crime] the more likely they will get approved," he said.

Because the law is so new, judges don't have a precedent to consider, he said. Plus, it's not a good political move if a judge lets an offender off the list and the offender commits another sexual crime.

Officials say financial problems and the fear of going before a court again could be other factors that have kept more offenders from trying to have their names removed.

Since the law changed, officials of Catoosa and Walker Superior Courts say they haven't received any petitions from sex offenders, while Whitfield County has received only a handful of requests.

"It's not a simple process," Alvord said. "To a lot of people, it's intimidating."

Even with all of the precautions in place, any decision to remove an offender from state oversight carries an element of risk, officials said.

Prosecutors are limited in what they can argue in court when someone petitions to have his name removed, McManus said. They must determine if the person meets all the requirements, but they can't predict with any certainty whether that person will commit another crime.

"You don't know what they're going to do," he said. "We have to trust [the court's] judgment and hope they're right."

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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JustaPerson said...

Good, this is how it should be. Anybody who commits a crime, should be punished, as it's always been, and once they have done their time, they should be just like any other citizen, just as it has always been, until the sex offender hysteria started.

We have been tracking the Georgia registry for a little over a year now, and you can see the results here:

https://skydrive.live.com/view.aspx/Archives/Spread%20Sheets/GA%20SOR%20INFO.xlsx?cid=a754c96e86e37f71&sc=documents

The registry should be taken offline and used by police only, it is becoming a vigilante hit-list, and vigilantism, harassment, etc, is on the rise, and can be seen at the links below:

http://tinyurl.com/SOIVigilantism http://www.youtube.com/user/RSOVigilantism

Visit us here:

http://www.facebook.com/OfficialSOIssues http://sexoffenderissues.blogspot.com

November 13, 2011 at 1:19 a.m.
haroldbrown511 said...

If you don't have health insurance and get sick, the tax payers have to pay for it anyway- so go get health insurance please- search online "Penny Health" and learn how you can get insurance at discount price.

November 13, 2011 at 2:19 a.m.
EaTn said...

In addition to the sex crimes registry, I think we should have one for murderers, kidnappers and assaulters. I'm as concerned about an ex-murderer living next door as an ex-con who at age 19 had consensual sex with his 15 year old girlfriend.

November 13, 2011 at 6:27 a.m.

@justaperson, the sex offender registry let my family know that the kind gentleman who was trying to befriend our family,(with two small children) was a pedophile. He was explaining his time in prision and he built himself up to be a hero, defending his child in a rapist situation. When I found him on the registry, HE was the offender. This registry possibly saved our family an unbearable heartache. I do believe the statutory rape offenders should be removed, but no one else.

November 13, 2011 at 9:57 a.m.
acomanda said...

"We have to trust [the court's] judgment and hope they're right."

Trust the Georgia couts? Are you kidding?

November 13, 2011 at 10:47 a.m.
Valigator said...

No one is tougher on these guys than I am, but I have long held the belief that some offenders should have the right to petition OFF the registry. This is a good start and we have to HOPE judges uses discretion and good sense when it comes to this. In the public's eyes the confusion of the underge girlfriend with the blitz rapist had a devestating effect on the viability of the registry. Now, those who remain on the registry can't BS their neighbors that they just peed on a bush or had consentual sex. The integrity of the registry remains and its being a useful tool to inform the community who truly warrants diligent oversight is intact..

November 13, 2011 at 12:54 p.m.
Valigator said...

Justaperson aka Sexoffendergroup member, says "The registry should be taken offline and used by police only" In your dreams buddy. You and your group are fighting tooth and nail to abolish the registry and WHY? Because at the end of the day most of you pervs couldn't qualify for removal, your crimes are considered heinous in the eyes of society and you warrant being watched like bugs under glass. We lived too long without a registry and society has demanded we not live without one again. Our right to know who has the propensity to tear our families world apart and brag about it later, outweighs your wish to be incognito.

November 13, 2011 at 1:02 p.m.
Haiku said...

@justaperson. While clicking through one of the links you provided I noticed that quite a number of those perps were cops. This seems to be a trend of some kind. Why does it seem so many sex abusers are in the business of law enforcement these days? Does anyone have an answer?

November 13, 2011 at 4:41 p.m.

@Haiku, my guess would be that people who are abusers have become cops rather than cops becoming abusers. It gives them access to a greater variety of people, and those people have their guard down. The same with scout leaders, preachers, teachers and so on. They put themselves in a position of trust, to gain greater access to their choice of victims.

November 13, 2011 at 7 p.m.
seaeagle8709 said...

I think it's a shame that so many folks are branded for life on the Sex Offender Registry whose offenses were minor, non-violent, and/or concensual in nature. They are unfairly branded for life and many are ostracized and often condemned by people who overreact who are quick to judge without considering mitigating circumstances and a return to law-abiding, peaceful life.
I, for one would fear a convicted murderer living nearby much more than someone who made one mistake sexual in nature and has paid his price to society and has successfully participated in probation and is living peacefully among us. It is truly that murderers and other violent offenders walk free after probation and can live private and non-stigmatized lives among us.
I do hope that the state of Tennessee will follow Georgia's lead in helping rehabilitated sex offenders to regain normal private lives.

April 17, 2012 at 6:44 p.m.
Scared4life said...

As a sex offender convicted of statuatory rape, I agree on keeping the registry for public view. But consider this, I have three children and they get harrassed on a regular basis by other kids saying that their being molested by their dad. I 've been married for ten years and its really hard to live and support my family with this hanging over my head. I think only class two and three offenders should be on the registry. Just my opinion but put yourself in our shoes before you judge. I've paid my dues everyday I wake up but so does my wife and kids.

April 17, 2013 at 2:39 p.m.
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