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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Registry law called 'unfair to homeless'

Georgia's sex offender registry law should be struck down because it makes homelessness a crime, a lawyer told the state's highest court on Monday.

"The law is fundamentally unfair to homeless sex offenders," public defender Adam Levin argued to the Georgia Supreme Court.

Levin represents William James Santos, charged in Hall County for failing to register a new address in the sex offender registry. Because this would be his second failure-to-register offense, Santos faces a mandatory life sentence.

The registry law, with the harshest penalties in the nation, requires sex offenders to provide a route or street address within 72 hours after being released from custody or moving to a new address. The law states that an offender cannot use "homeless" as an address.

Santos had lived at the Good News at Noon homeless shelter in Gainesville and correctly gave that address on the registry. But in July 2006, Santos was forced to leave the shelter.

For the next three months, Santos was homeless and could not give an address and comply with the statute, Levin said. In October 2006, Santos was arrested and later indicted.

Levin argued there is precedent by the U.S. Supreme Court supporting his position. In 1983, the high court ruled that someone on probation cannot be imprisoned if they are found to be indigent and cannot afford to pay a court-imposed fine.

Sex offenders who can afford roofs over their heads can give a proper address, Levin said. But homeless offenders such as Santos cannot and are subject to prosecution, he argued.

Hall County Assistant District Attorney Vanessa Sykes urged the state Supreme Court to uphold the law and allow Santos' prosecution to go forward. [Mark Godsey]

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