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July 01, 2008

Policy Debate: Sex Offender Registration and Mandatory Life Sentences

Professor Orin Kerr writes, "This is bad."

If you're a registered sex offender, failing twice to properly register your home address is really dumb. But if you're a state legislator, punishing that with a mandatory life sentence -- as Georgia has done -- is even dumber.

The background to the case is here and it raises some good questions. I'll summarize:

Georgia law requires sex offenders to register---on a continuous basis---information including identifying characteristics, like height and weight, employment activity, and most especially residence. If the sex offender is living too close to schools, churches, or other places where children are likely to be, he is required to move. He then has 72 hours to report his new residence and to move there. Failure to comply is considered failure to properly register as a sex offender. Innocent mistake (e.g. typos on the form) is not an excuse. On the second violation, the law imposes mandatory life imprisonment.

Here, Cedric Bradshaw is a pedophile and a dumbass. When he was 19 he had sex with a 15 year-old. But he served his time and was released, subject to sex offender registry. He then was imprisoned for six months when he gave an invalid address on his first registration. After that, he had to move twice when it turned out the family members he was living with (a sister then an aunt) lived too close to areas where children were likely to be. He finally found a place, but transposed two numbers in the address. He also failed to move into the new place within 72 hours. He was caught and prosecuted for failure to properly register as a sex offender. The trial judge ruled that he had no discretion to do anything other than sentence Bradshaw to life imprisonment. The case is currently before the Georgia Supreme Court.

Good law or bad law?

Does your opinion change if the sex offender is on the registry for circumstances less horrific than statutory rape? Something like this:

Drunk frat boy grabs Hooter's waitress' boobs and is convicted of misdemeanor sexual battery (no registry). 2 years later, while celebrating his college graduation, he does the same thing. Now it is felony sexual battery and a lifetime on the registry with a life sentence hanging over his head.

Related: The trial judge in this case is a rather unimpressive specimen. At sentencing, he said:

"I'll leave it to the super Legislature, the Supreme Court, to decide the issues of constitutionality," he said.

That sounds like an abdication of duty to me. Of course, trial judges are elected in Georgia.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 12:54 PM

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