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.