Hundreds of Georgia sex offenders off ankle monitors as lawmakers seek legal fix


Beau Evans, Capitol Beat News Service


Jul 10, 2020 at 12:34 PM

A landmark court ruling has led to nearly half of Georgia’s most high-risk sex offenders being released from their ankle monitors over the past year, marking a legal quandary that state lawmakers fell short in addressing during the 2020 legislative session.

State officials tasked with recommending how to monitor sex offenders in Georgia say legislation filed in the 2020 session would address the problem going forward by handing final authority to judges, rather than a state-run review board.

But criminal defense attorneys argue the proposal does not include certain legal avenues for sex offenders who often lack the means to appeal their punishments and who would benefit from more focus on treatment than lifetime ankle monitoring.

So far, 520 of 1,108 people in Georgia classified as “sexually dangerous predators” most at risk for committing future sex crimes have been freed from GPS tracking devices, according to Tracy Alvord, executive director of the state Sexual Offender Registration Review Board.

She expects 17 more sexually dangerous predators will be off ankle monitors by the end of this year, leaving local law enforcement agencies and the state Department of Community Supervision to rely more on reports from concerned citizens to monitor sex offenders in lieu of electronic tracking.

“There’s only so much you can do unless someone commits another crime,” Alvord said. “Now, they have less idea unless there’s a report that they’re engaging in some kind of disturbing behavior.”

Legislation brought by Rep. Steven Sainz, R-Woodbine, in the General Assembly session that wrapped up last month was aimed at revising state law on sex-offender sentencing that the Georgia Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional in March 2019.

The high court ruled a longstanding practice of electronically monitoring some sex offenders in Georgia after their sentences and probation have been completed should not be allowed to continue, blocking a state law that requires automatic lifetime monitoring for sexually dangerous predators.

The issue centered on a process in which the review board decides how to classify a sex offender based on a risk scale, with the highest risk carrying automatic lifetime monitoring. Those highest-risk offenders mark a fraction of Georgia’s roughly 12,000 sex offenders, according to Alvord.

Sainz’s bill called for making the decision on lifetime monitoring part of a judge’s sentence from the start instead of via the review board. It would have only addressed future sex offenders, not those who have already been released from monitoring.

“My bill was a very tailored approach,” Sainz said. “It intentionally wasn’t a huge number [of offenders], but that number we’re dealing with per year would be the most needed offenders to have that tool long-term.”

House Bill 720 passed out of the state House of Representatives but stalled as lawmakers grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic. Sainz said he plans to work on the bill with Sen. Randy Robertson, R-Cataula, and bring it back for next year’s legislative session.

Critically, the bill proposes automatic lifetime-monitoring sentences for sex offenders who commit more than one felony sex crime such as rape, trafficking, child molestation and child pornography.

But automatic sentencing could prevent judges from imposing penalties on a case-by-case basis, potentially tying the hands of a judge who might opt for lifetime probation or more intensive treatment, said Jill Travis, executive director of the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

“It completely removes judicial discretion, which we believe is an important feature that should remain in the law,” Travis said. “Individual assessment is key, not just a blanket crime ‘A’ plus crime ‘B’ equals a lifetime monitoring.”

As it stands, Travis said the review board’s process for recommending sex-offender classifications leaves little room for appeal for offenders who often cannot afford legal representation. She said the state should put more resources into behavioral and psychological treatments aimed at curbing recidivism.

“That’s the best thing that should happen,” Travis said. “Strapping a monitor on them for life doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not going to commit another offense.”

But ankle monitors can help local police authorities prevent sex crimes by allowing them to easily determine if a GPS-tracked offender is going somewhere that is off limits like a school or has come into contact recently with people they shouldn’t, said the review board’s Alvord.

She said the intent is to stave off repeated sex crimes while also managing a constant stream of new cases. Each month, the review board receives a list of around 200 new sex offenders from local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, Alvord said.

Establishing legally sound rules on ankle monitoring would help state and local authorities keep up with the heavy workload in the effort to protect Georgians from sexual predators, Alvord said.

“Our front-line people do a really, really good job despite the limitations we have legally,” Alvord said. “They’re really having to compensate on waiting for [Sainz’s bill] before it goes through.”


Senate to consider bill to extend use of ankle monitors for sex offenders

Rep. Steven Sainz, a Republican from Woodbine, says his House Bill 720 will give the state more ability for for lifetime tracking of some felon sex offenders. His bill was advanced on Crossover Day with a 98-63 vote. House Media Services photo

State lawmakers scrambled last year to close a loophole after the Georgia Supreme Court ruled the state was unconstitutionally requiring some sex offenders to wear ankle monitors after they completed their sentence.

Last week, Georgia House members sent House Bill 720 for the Senate to review just before the 2020 legislative session was suspended. It passed the House of Representatives with a 98-63 vote on Thursday’s Crossover Day over objections by Democrats that the proposed lengthy probation requirements are too harsh. The bill adds a list of felony sex offenses that would get mandatory lifetime probation in the case of a second conviction. 

The Supreme Court decision released 400 sexual offenders classified by the state as dangerous predators from state GPS monitoring. Rep. Steven Sainz said the crimes listed in his bill like sex trafficking, aggravated sodomy and enticing a child for indecent purposes are serious enough to warrant a lifetime of around-the-clock GPS tracking after the offender is released from prison.

The legislation has elicited strong opposition from Democrats who say it goes against criminal justice reform efforts by unfairly lumping some offenses together for a potential lifetime sentence of probation or 30 years in prison because of a probation violation.

A judicial review is called for after the first 10 years and subsequent five year periods to determine if the offender is rehabilitated enough to have their sentence reduced. 

Republican Chuck Efstration said the bill is consistent with the criminal justice reform push that he served on a council for during Gov. Nathan Deal’s administration. 

“We are saying that for the most serious offenders, where public safety is in jeopardy, we are going to allow oversight to ensure that the public is protected,” said Efstration, who lives in Gwinnett County.

Georgia law already requires life imprisonment or probation for anyone convicted of forcible rape, felony aggravated child molestation, felony aggravated sodomy and aggravated sexual battery.

Democrat Minority House Leader Bob Trammell says the proposed monitoring rules are overbearing. 

“This is a step backwards,” said the Luthersville resident. “If we decide that any of these crimes need to be sentenced in a more harsh manner, then we should deal with those crimes individually, but what we should not do, is tack on at the end probation for life.”

Rep. Gregg Kennard, a minister and director of a transitional reentry program, said the state already has safeguards in place such as the sexual offender registry and rules that prevent sex offenders them from living near schools.

“I find unduly punitive and stigmatizing research proves that the offending individual who is further penalized and stigmatized will cease to respond positively to treatment because there’s a sense of futility,” the Lawrenceville Democrat said.


Bill to end charging 17-year-old offenders as adults clears committee

The Georgia Senate now has the chance to weigh in on Marietta Republican Rep. Bert Reeves’ anti-gang legislation that adds to the list of offenses covered, including human trafficking, child molestation and enticing a child. It is backed by Gov. Brian Kemp, who campaigned in 2018 with promises to crackdown on gang activity in Georgia.. luoman/Getty Images

A Georgia House committee Monday recommended raising the age a teenager can be charged as an adult to 18 from 17, setting aside concerns that the change comes at a multi-million dollar cost to state agencies.

The so-called Raise the Age legislation that advanced through the House Juvenile Justice Committee Monday proposes to change the law to allow the majority of 17-year-olds to be processed in the juvenile court system instead of adult court. Treating 17-year-old offenders as juveniles could cost the state an additional $65 million annually, according to a state fiscal note attached to the bill.

That’s on top of a one-time $200 million expense Department of Juvenile Justice officials project it will cost to build four new juvenile detention centers to accommodate the influx of 18-year-olds.

State auditors project an additional $50 million annual operating cost for the juvenile justice agency, as well as another $15 million in new spending for mental health services and state-funded legal help.

Building four new jails shouldn’t be necessary when about 85% of the 17-year-olds are arrested for non-violent crimes and youth detention centers are already under capacity, said Sherrie Jefferson, executive director of the nonprofit African-American Juvenile Justice Project.

Other states have shifted annual costs from their corrections departments budgets into juvenile justice when they increased the age of youthful offenders, Jefferson said.

However, Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Tyrone Oliver said at last month’s committee hearing his department’s $200 million estimate is based on the need to add capacity in populated areas where development costs are high.

New York spent $19 million on detention center facilities after raising the age for juvenile courts and offered to cover costs for local governments dealing with financial hardships. Connecticut’s juvenile justice budget decreased from $139 million in 2001-2002 to $137 million a decade later after raising the age to 18 for adult offenders, according to a Justice Institute Policy report.

“When (17-year-olds) are charged as an adult, you’re literally creating not just a school to prison pipeline, you’re adding to the delinquency and criminality of the child going forward,” Jefferson said.

Supporters of the change say when 17-year-olds are charged as juveniles they’re less likely to become repeat offenders with fewer barriers to education, military and jobs as a result of a criminal record.

A recent addition to the legislation is a proposed oversight committee to ease a transition from adult incarceration to juvenile supervision. 

The transfer of responsibility for 17-year-olds could take place in 2021, said Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver of Decatur, the lone Democratic sponsor of the bill.

“Nationally the numbers for implementation for ‘Raise the Age’ are not as large in any other state as they were predicted so everybody’s feeling more comfortable about the numbers,” she said.

Georgia, Texas and Wisconsin are the only states where 17-year-olds must go through adult courts and prison systems.

A 17-year-old in Georgia that commits a serious violent crime like a sex offense or armed robbery would still go through the normal adult court system if the legislation becomes law. 

Some juvenile court judges and attorney associations like the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia say they will need more resources to handle a higher caseload and services tailored to teenagers.

The strongest opposition to the bill is from the state’s police and sheriffs’ associations, which say rural Georgia counties will get stuck with higher costs of transporting more juveniles to youth detention centers, which can take hours to reach in rural areas.

In 2018, about 6,700 17-year-olds were arrested and as of February this year 66 were incarcerated by the state Department of Corrections.


Georgia HB720 moves to floor for vote.

– From NARSOL’s Georgia advocate

Yesterday in Georgia, House Bill 720 moved out of Committee by a 6-3 vote and is headed to the floor for a vote.  THIS IS A TERRIBLE BILL for registered persons in Georgia.  The intent is to protect the vulnerable citizens of Georgia from roughly 400 Tier 3 registrants that are no longer required to wear an electronic monitoring device (ankle monitor) once they have completed their sentence.  Unfortunately the legislature has chosen to “fix” the issue by introducing legislation that would overwhelm the Department of Community Supervision and impose unnecessary burdens.  In a nutshell, the bill would restrict Judges from deviating from mandatory minimum sentencing, require that lifetime probation be implemented upon conviction of a second sexual offence, remove first offender eligibility for all sexual offenses (it is up to the court’s discretion today), and make it lawful for law enforcement agencies to place Halloween signs.

Rep. Sainz, who is the lead sponsor on this bill, incorrectly stated that “we know that a sexual offender is most likely to reoffend within a period of around five years.”

Here is what this BAD BILL would do:

  • Any person convicted of a sexual offense shall be sentenced to a split sentence which shall include the minimum term of imprisonment specified in the Code section applicable to such sexual offense.
  • No portion of the mandatory minimum sentence imposed shall be suspended, stayed, probated, deferred, or withheld by the court.
  • Any such sentence shall include, in addition to the mandatory term of imprisonment, an additional probated sentence of be followed by probation for at least one year
  • No person convicted of a sexual offense shall be sentenced as a first offender
  • For convictions that are felonies and that are for a second or subsequent conviction for a sexual offense arising out of events that are different from events of a previous conviction, such probation shall be for life.
  • Any law enforcement agency of competent jurisdiction may, on October 30 and 31 of each year, post a sign upon the front of the residence of any person on such probation, stating the following: ‘No candy or treats at this residence.’ Such signs shall further be in the form as provided for by the department.
  • When a probationer is on probation for life as provided for in Code 310 Section 17-10-6.2, The Department of Community Supervision (DCS) shall file a petition to terminate his or her probation if, after serving ten years on probation, the probationer has:
    • Paid all restitution owed
    • Not had his or her probation revoked during such period
    • Not been arrested for anything other than a nonserious traffic offense
  • If a petition for a probationer who is on probation for life as provided for in Code 323 Section 17-10-6.2 is not granted, a petition shall be filed every five years thereafter

We are encouraging everyone in Georgia to contact their State Representatives asking them to vote NO on HB 720.  If this bill crosses over next week, we will fight to stop it from being voted on in the Senate. You can find your State Representative by clicking here.

You can watch a recording of the committee meeting here (Starts at 50:42):

Media coverage of this can be found here:

Brendan Spaar

Georgia Advocate

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House committee wants to restore lengthy GPS monitoring for sex offenders

Hundreds of Georgia sex offenders deemed dangerous enough that they were forced to wear ankle monitors last year are no longer tracked in the wake of a March 2019 Georgia Supreme Court decision. Mario Tama/Getty Images

Georgia legislation that would lead to a lifetime sentence for people convicted of at least two felony sexual offenses moved through a House committee on Thursday.

State Rep. Steven Sainz filed House Bill 720 in response to a state Supreme Court ruling in 2019 that found it unconstitutional for law enforcement agencies to force sex offenders to be electronically monitored after they served their sentence. The bill, however, continues to generate criticism about its fairness in mandating life sentences.

The legislation clears the way for law enforcement to use more ankle monitors to track offenders after they are released from jail or prison. 

Sainz said the proposed law could give state and local law enforcement more oversight to keep vulnerable Georgians safe from potentially dangerous people.  

The Supreme Court decision released 400 sexual offenders classified by the state as dangerous predators from state GPS monitoring.

The legislation also requires an automatic judicial review after the offender serves 10 years on probation.That’ll give a judge a chance to review enough information to see if the sentence should be relaxed, Sainz said at Thursday’s House committee meeting.

“We know a sex offender is most likely to re-offend within a period of five years,” he said. “This allows us to have applicable information to make sure we’re not taking a tool that allows the safety of Georgians away prematurely but also not continuing this life probation on individuals that aren’t seemed to be a risk for re-offense.”

However, a representative of the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers says that the measure is still too harsh.

Georgia law already requires life imprisonment or probation for anyone convicted of forcible rape, felony aggravated child molestation, felony aggravated sodomy and aggravated sexual battery.

“We believe that ankle monitoring should remain a requirement only for the people determined to have the greatest risk to reoffend and should remain discretionary for everyone else,” media chair Amanda Clark-Palmer said by email.

The life sentence also raises questions about what would happen if the offender’s probation is revoked, putting their fate in the hands of a judge.

“The consequence of that is that the person is not eligible for parole until they’ve served 30 years,” Clark-Palmer said.

The bill also proposes to allow local law enforcement agencies to post signs outside homes of sex offenders to warn trick-or-treaters to stay on away on Halloween.

A group of registered sex offenders filed a lawsuit against the Butts County Sheriff’s Office in 2019 for placing signs outside of sex offenders home, that included claims that the signs violated constitutional rights against forced speech.

Rep. Ed Setzler, a member of the committee, said that issue should be resolved by having state law give local jurisidcations the discretion to place the signs outside a sex offender’s residence.


Ga Bill Would Eliminate Statute of Limitations on Rape, Other Sex Crime Prosecutions

A bill proposed in the Georgia legislature would eliminate the statute of limitations established for prosecutions of rape and other sexual offenses.

House Bill 1069 was filed this week by State Representatives Scott Holcomb, Debbie Buckner, Rick Williams, Josh McLaurin, Miriam Paris, and Jasmine Clark and would address existing code sections that prohibit the prosecution of rape, aggravated sodomy, and aggravated sexual battery after a certain number of years. All three crimes are felonies.

Statutes of limitation were put in place in part to discourage convictions based on “unreliable witness testimony,” including memories of events that occurred years in the past.

Under current Georgia law, the statute of limitations for rape, aggravated sodomy, and aggravated sexual battery prosecutions is capped from the time the crime occurred, unless DNA evidence is available to establish the the identity of the accused. In the cases of established identity, there is no statute of limitations and cases can commence at any time. Without the DNA evidence, however, rape cases are capped at fifteen years while aggravated sexual battery and aggravated sodomy cases are capped at four years, unless the victim was under the age of 18 at the time of the crime, in which cases the statute of limitations is seven years.

HB 1069 strikes the current statutes from the code altogether and ensures the three offenses can prosecuted at any time, regardless of the presence of DNA evidence.

The measure would only apply to those crimes which occur on or after July 1, 2020, when the act would take effect if approved by the legislature.

It is difficult to compare Georgia’s statute of limitations across states because states don’t always classify crimes in the same manner and some states may impose different statutes for degrees of offenses (i.e. – first degree, second degree, etc). A number of comparative tools and resources are available on the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, website.

According to RAINN, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming are the only states in the nation to have removed the statute of limitations for all felony sex crime offenses.

HB 1069  has been assigned to the House Judiciary Non-civil Committee. You can read it below.

HB 1069


Halloween warning signs for Georgia sex offenders trip up lifetime ankle monitoring bill

ATLANTA – Halloween signs and legal hurdles tripped up legislation aimed at requiring repeat sexual offenders to wear electronic ankle monitors for life in Georgia that a state House panel examined Wednesday.

Lawmakers are hustling to continue
monitoring sex offenders classified as “sexually dangerous predators” following
a Georgia Supreme Court ruling last year that upended the practice of automatic
lifetime ankle monitoring absent a judge’s sentence.

As a result, more than 400 sex offenders
deemed at risk for committing future crimes had been freed from their lifetime
monitoring punishments as of last October, totaling nearly half of the state’s roughly
1,000 sexually dangerous predators.

House Bill 720 would automatically impose
lifetime electronic tracking on sexual predators with multiple sex-offense
felony convictions. That should keep the state’s most dangerous sexual
predators from flying under the radar while Georgia’s rules on electronic
monitoring are in flux, said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Steven Sainz.

“This looks at trying to identify the
population that has committed an offense and are most likely to be needing that
additional monitoring,” said Sainz, R-Woodbine.

But the measure does not tackle the
overarching issue of giving judges in Georgia full discretion to include
lifetime ankle monitoring as a form of probation included in an offender’s
original sentence, regardless of whether the crime was a repeat offense, Sainz

He noted that proposal on judicial
discretion may come in a separate bill not yet introduced in the 2020
legislative session.

Currently, Georgia law gives the state
Sexual Offender Registration Review Board sole authority to classify sex
offenders in a way that forces them to wear ankle monitors for life.

That was the arrangement until last
March, when the state’s high court said lifetime monitoring would be
unconstitutional if not part of a judge’s original sentence.

A Georgia Senate study committee recently
recommended changing state law to give judges authority to incorporate lifetime
ankle monitoring into a sentence, which would factor in information provided by
the review board.

Members of a House Judiciary Non-Civil
subcommittee did not vote on Sainz’s bill’s Wednesday amid concerns from some
lawmakers and criminal defense attorneys who objected to the measure’s broad
scope – as well as a last-minute change requiring repeat sex offenders to post warning
signs outside their houses for Halloween.

Rep. Josh McLaurin, D-Sandy Springs, said
he opposed an amendment to the bill brought Wednesday concerning the Halloween
sign, which would legally have to say: “No candy, treats, or treat-or-treating
at this residence.”

The sign, which McLaurin called a
violation of free-speech protections, would have to be displayed every year on
Oct. 30 and Oct. 31.

“It’s just downright humiliating to have
to post that at your house,” McLaurin said. “And I understand that sexual
offenses are extremely serious. My concern would be that the dignity of a
person – and particularly with regard to their First Amendment interests – is
seriously implicated by this type of statutorily mandated language.”

Sainz said after Wednesday’s hearing that
he plans to keep the Halloween sign requirement but might modify what it says.

The bill could also cast too wide a net
over who might be subject to a lifetime-tracking sentence, McLaurin said. He
noted state law already sets lifetime imprisonment as the maximum punishment
for several violent crimes like murder and rape. Adding separate lifetime
penalties for various sexual offenses could cause legal murkiness, he said.

“My concern is this bill won’t do the
thing it’s supposed to do,” McLaurin said.

Officials on the state review board have
said they’re well-positioned to decide who should merit lifetime monitoring
because the board has comprehensive access to key information like an
offender’s criminal records, psychological profile and behavior history while

But critics argue the review board has
too much leeway to set the stiff punishment, often doing so long after a judge
hands down a sentence or an offender is released from prison. They have also
claimed the review board’s methods for classifying offenders as sexually
dangerous predators are not transparent.

Broadening the kinds of sexual offenses that
could prompt lifetime monitoring could complicate the issue more than
clarifying it, said Jill Travis, executive director of the Georgia Association
of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

“We would continue to recommend that the
need for this lifetime monitoring should be tied to individuals’ sexual
dangerous and not a specific crime,” Travis said.

The subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. Ed
Setzler, R-Acworth, said he wants to see some tweaks to the bill but expects it
to eventually head to the full committee.


Lengthy penalty sinks sex offender residency bill

The push on legislation combating human trafficking and child sex crimes arrived in the state Senate Judiciary Committee late Monday afternoon, as the committee voted down one proposal and heard discussion on several others.

State Sen. Lester Jackson, D-Savannah, appeared for the vote on his legislation, which included Senate Bill 35. The idea is to prohibit sex offenders from living so close to their victims and victims’ immediate family members so as to cause ongoing problems.

“We’ve had a hearing-only on this bill already, and I will point out what I think is the major change,” said state Sen. Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro, who also chairs the committee. “That is on Line 36, which was reworded to read, ‘No individual shall move to reside within,’ and that differs from the original language, which was, ‘No individual shall reside within.’

“The thought process there is, you will recall from the discussion with the prosecuting attorneys, is that there were some constitutional issues, where someone moves to within 2,000 feet of a victim but is unaware that the victim is within that distance.”

The key phrase in the bill, Jackson pointed out, is an offender would have to make a knowing and intentional violation of the law — a person couldn’t be charged when they had no idea they were in violation.

The distance set by the bill is 2,000 feet, which Jackson explained to state Sen. Bill Heath, R-Bremen, just seemed to be the most reasonable distance.

“What 2,000 feet relates to, well, 1,000 feet, as you can imagine, for lack of a better term, three football fields,” Jackson said. “So, 2,000 feet is six football fields. If a person that’s a victim wants to go for a walk, 2,000 feet — meaning they can go in a circle around three or four football fields and they don’t have to worry about their assailant. Seeing their assailant, or the assailant being a predator, or just looking at them. There’s nothing magical about 2,000 feet, but 1,000 feet we thought was just too small of a distance.”

State Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, expressed concerns with the penalties, which appears to have been the issue that sunk the legislation, ultimately. The new law would provide for a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence, which some senators saw was too much for the offense.

Among the bills heard Monday without a vote, state Sen. Zahra Karinshak, D-Duluth, brought two that deal with human trafficking — S.B. 325 and S.B. 326.

“I want to share with you that these are two important measures to fight sex trafficking and human trafficking here in Georgia, which as you know is a high priority for our governor,” Karinshak said. “Senate Bill 325 would expand the statute of limitations for prosecuting human trafficking-related offenses to 10 years from the commission of the crime, or from any victim’s 18th birthday.”

Susan Coppedge, a friend of Karinshak’s from their time as federal prosecutors, spoke on S.B. 326. She recently served both the Obama and Trump administrations in the State Department as the ambassador at-large for the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking of Persons.

S.B. 326 would allow for the clearing of criminal records for victims of human trafficking. She said as it stands now, trafficking survivors remain in a position of vulnerability because they can’t get jobs as a result of these criminal actions they were forced to commit.

Coppedge also provided the anecdote of a mother who said she wasn’t allowed to chaperone her daughter’s field trip because of a past prostitution conviction.

“It also affects the ability to get housing in some situations, and it just continues to victimize a survivor that the system recognizes is a victim of a crime, not a perpetrator,” Coppedge said. “That’s why the law is so important. And Georgia — sadly, for me — is one of 10 states at last count that had not passed a law like this.”

State Sen. Randy Robertson, R-Cataula, presented legislation that would criminalize the possession and production of sexually suggestive images of children that already aren’t covered by other laws. He said the issue came up in a summer study committee that there’s a gap in existing law.

Presently worded, S.B. 331 states, “It is unlawful for any person to knowingly possess or control or produce any material or medium which contains images that depict a naked or nearly naked, suggestively posed, and inappropriately sexualized child or children with the intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desire of such person or the person viewing such images.”

Work will also continue on tweaking that bill, which during discussion appeared to need more specificity.

Jackson closed out the hearing by discussing his bill to outlaw childlike sex dolls.

“Similar measures have been passed in the state of Florida, also in the state of Tennessee, also, if you look back, there’s a … (U.S.) House resolution, 4655, introduced in June 2018, that talked about childlike sex dolls,” Jackson said. “It is indeed a problem that has come to Georgia … actually, sold across the world. There have been 230 childlike sex dolls that have already been caught, and in the GBI or in federal custody. that have entered our state.”

Jackson was slightly off with his dates — the congressional resolution referenced was the Curbing Realistic Exploitative Electronic Pedophilic Robots Act — or CREEPER Act — of 2017. It passed the House by voice vote June 2018 after introduction in December 2017. The bill, a bipartisan effort, didn’t have any Georgia co-sponsors.

Possession of such a doll under Jackson’s S.B. 332 would be a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature on first offense and a felony for every offense thereafter, resulting in sentences of one to five years. Meanwhile. selling, lending, giving away or manufacturing such a doll, or possession with intent to do the same, would be a felony with penalties of one to 10 years.


Lawmakers seek sex predator tracking bill that’s constitutional

Hundreds of Georgia sex offenders deemed dangerous enough that they were forced to wear ankle monitors last year are no longer tracked in the wake of a March 2019 Georgia Supreme Court decision. Mario Tama/Getty Images

Georgia legislators aim to close a loophole that’s now preventing the state from using ankle monitors to track more than 400 sex offenders.

Some House and Senate lawmakers are backing legislation that would give judges the ability to impose lifetime electronic monitoring as part of someone’s sentence if a sex offender is deemed to have a strong chance of reoffending.

The proposals follow a Georgia Supreme Court ruling that it is unconstitutional for the state to require around-the-clock GPS tracking after the felony sex offender has completed their sentence.

The 2019 ruling forced the state to stop using ankle monitors on 412 of the 1,054 people classified by a governor-appointed state review board as “sexually dangerous” predators.

The court’s decision, however, does not prevent legislators from changing the law so lifetime electronic monitoring can still be mandated when the worst culprits are sentenced in court.

State Sen. Randy Robertson said he plans to file legislation this session giving judges the authority to determine the length of electronic surveillance.

That was the recommendation of a Senate study committee that the Cataula Republican served on last year.

“We’re working on some legislation that will address some of the gaps we feel are in the way of state monitoring,” Robertson said last week. “Our intent is to make our laws regarding monitoring sex offenders probably some of the toughest in the country.”

While Robertson and some of his colleagues work on their own legislation, a bill introduced late in the House last session remains alive this year.

House Bill 720, sponsored by Rep. Steven Sainz, a Woodbine Republican, would continue allowing the state’s Sex Offender Registration Review Board to evaluate whether an offender should be classified as a sexually dangerous predator, but it would leave the final decision to judges.

Critics of giving the state review board sole-discretion derided its lack of transparency and for the panel sometimes classifying someone as a dangerous sexual predator long after the person is initially sentenced.

However, if the law was changed so that all felony sex offenses could have a lifetime probation sentence, it could lead to another unconstitutional result, says attorney Mark Yurachek, who was involved in last year’s Supreme Court case.

In that proceeding, Yurachek represented a man convicted of child molestation and sexual exploitation of a minor who fought the legality of having to wear an ankle monitor once his sentence was over.

Georgia law already requires life imprisonment or probation for anyone convicted of forcible rape, felony aggravated child molestation, felony aggravated sodomy and aggravated sexual battery.

Yurachek said empowering a judge to impose lifetime probation for all felony sex offenses could result in overzealous judges giving the maxiumum to a 19-year-old convicted of statutory rape for having sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend.

“There are judges in this state who would not consider the weight of the gravity of the circumstances,” he said. “Not only does it seem ridiculous to give someone a life sentence for engaging in that behavior, it also, in my opinion, demeans the severity of other crimes.”

However, letting a judge make that decision in an open courtroom is better than the current process, said Yurachek and attorney Jason Sheffield, who was also involved in the state Supreme Court case.

“The best case scenario is where the law builds in a process to have this designation reviewed after awhile to afford him due process to come back in court with his own experts, to allow testimony to show how that person has reformed through counseling,” Sheffield said.

Yurachek also says lawmakers need to better define what is considered a sexually dangerous predator.

“The state’s current definition of sexually dangerous predator is potentially unconstitutionally vague,” he said.


Kemps, law enforcement escalate sex trafficking fight

At the state Capitol on Tuesday, Georgia First Lady Marty Kemp outlined some anti-sex-trafficking legislation that her husband Gov. Brian Kemp will propose. Maggie Lee/Georgia Recorder

Georgia’s first couple has made a priority of fighting the selling of children for sex almost since the day they entered the governor’s mansion in 2019. But it’s the kind of evil that needs fighting — and healing — from a number of angles.

Gov. Brian Kemp and First Lady Marty Kemp announced this week that new legislation is coming that would tighten up restrictions on sex traffickers and offer some new relief to victims.

Children who tend to be vulnerable to being sold for sex include runaways or those graduating out of foster care, according to Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vic Reynolds. Though Reynolds has also seen middle-class and well-off victims too. The vast majority of victims are relatively young females, he said, though the GBI does see males being trafficked.

The Kemps’ proposed legislation would have people register as sex offenders if they have a felony conviction for pimping, pandering, or keeping a place of prostitution if the victim is under the age of 18.

Another new law would close what Marty Kemp called a “loophole” by banning sexual contact between a foster parent and a minor foster child. Right now it’s only a crime if the child is under 17. Kemp also wants to ban anybody from having a commercial drivers license if they have used a commercial vehicle to commit sex or labor trafficking.

“We must strengthen our laws to hold the bad actors accountable and aid our survivors and their path to healing,” said Marty Kemp this week at a Capitol press conference. Marty Kemp co-chairs the Georgians for Refuge, Action, Compassion, and Education Commission, which she put together about a year ago to look at ways to combat sex trafficking in the state.

The legal understanding of the difference between adults and children and prostitution and trafficking is changing in Georgia. After years of some legislators asking for the change, a 2019 Georgia law now prevents minors from being charged with prostitution. And according to Reynolds, law enforcement are now more inclined to recognize someone as a trafficking victim whereas before they often saw the person as a criminal defendant.

The Kemps also want legislation to give victims the right to restrict access to any criminal record they got while being trafficked, or to have any judgement against them set aside.

“Victims of sex trafficking are pretty much under the complete control of their traffickers,” said Susan Norris, founder and executive director of Rescuing Hope, a Marietta-based nonprofit that’s working to eradicate sex trafficking and which advised Gov. Kemp’s office on the legislation.

The victim “could be stopped at a traffic stop where their trafficker has drugs or guns in the car, and he’s going to shove all that on their lap and tell them, ‘This is yours,’” Norris said.

The legislation is focused mostly on what’s happened in the past, Norris said, because now more and more law enforcement has gone through training from the victim’s perspective. Officers are learning how to recognize victims’ behavior and how to help.

The GBI’s Reynolds also said that law enforcement has to make a more concentrated effort on the demand side.

“In my opinion, that’s how to stop this, is you is you go after the individuals who are paying for sex,” Reynolds said.

State and federal agencies are important, in part, because they can work across the county and city lines that limit local police jurisdiction.

“We have a unit inside the GBI that works exploitation cases against children,” Reynolds said. “I expect that to morph into some agents who work only trafficking cases.”

Prosecutors, too, are on board with the GRACE Commission’s work and fighting across jurisdiction lines, said the director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia.

“As prosecutors, we will work together with the Attorney General’s office to ensure that county lines are not barriers to pursuing criminals,” said the council’s executive director, Peter Skandalakis.

Norris said there is still a need for services for victims, and a big one right now is transitional housing for survivors, the kind of places where people can get services to help them deal with trauma and put their lives together.

“If you are taken into ‘the life’ (of sexual servitude) at a young age and you do not finish your education, you don’t have your GED, it’s hard to get a job,” Norris said. “If you have charges on your record, it’s hard to get a job, it’s hard to get housing, it’s hard to get scholarships for schooling.”

For younger people, there is residential housing for girls who are sex trafficking victims, Norris said, but no designated place for boys or LGBTQ youth.

She also said there’s also a need for more public education, starting young. Rescuing Hope has a pilot curriculum it’s putting in front of sixth-grade students.


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