By Larry . . . In the last few days NARSOL has received comments regarding our decision to litigate the Halloween signs required by some sheriffs in the state of Georgia. The writer raised some legitimate questions even though he could have conveyed them with a bit more tact and politeness.
NARSOL chose to litigate the Halloween signs for a number of reasons. First, compelled placement of the signs threatens the safety of all occupants in the residence because of the potential for violence. Second, the constitution of the United States prohibits compelled speech by the government. Third, there is no statutory authority to support the actions of the sheriffs in Butts and Spalding Counties. Fourth, for NARSOL to stand idly by while law enforcement invents requirements jeopardizes everyone because there is no end of creativity in the law enforcement community. What will they invent next, and should we just stand down and hope for the best while they do so?
The writer bitterly complained: (1) that the Georgia General Assembly will soon vote on HB 720. This legislation will permit Halloween signs to be posted in the front yard of all registrants; and (2) the vast majority of registrants in the state of Georgia were not subjected to Halloween signs. He concluded by saying, “Thanks to NARSOL, the rest of us are facing the same humiliation . . . ” The Georgia House of Representatives did vote to pass HB 720, and it is now in the Senate awaiting consideration. No hearing has been scheduled due to the suspension of the legislative session due to the pandemic and health concerns.
He even opined that the action by the state was easy to forecast. He is correct. NARSOL did anticipate that such a proposal would be introduced and likely enacted into law by the Georgia General Assembly. The problem with ignoring the renegade sheriffs in Georgia was that the cancer would have spread throughout the state had NARSOL not intervened. In fact, the action was recommended by the Georgia Sheriff’s Association, and other counties had announced similar intentions regarding mandatory placement of Halloween signs. Actually, the sheriff of Ben Hill County announced he would erect the signs this past Halloween, and NARSOL immediately sent a cease-and desist-letter. Beyond that, simply ignoring constitutional violations because it does not impact everyone is a misguided strategy. In fact, that is part of the reason we have marked passports. Several states chose to require that driver’s licenses actually bear the words “sexual offender”; if there had been even one successful challenge against this, case law would be in existence to aid in fighting marked passports. NARSOL felt that the Halloween sign requirement was likely to spread to all 159 counties in the state of Georgia.
NARSOL does anticipate that HB 720 has a good chance of passage once the session reconvenes. That said, we are prepared to challenge the constitutionality of the legislation once it is signed by Governor Kemp. The case law on compelled speech is favorable to our position, and we believe that our chances of victory are quite good. It is critically important that our constituents understand that each victory builds the body of case law which helps us in other challenges. If we had done nothing, there would not be the Does v. Snyder decision from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, nor would there be many other victories which have been won in recent years. NARSOL has stated on numerous occasions that all laws enjoy the presumption of constitutionality upon enactment, and that the challenging party bears the burden of showing by the clearest of proof that the challenged statute is invalid. That being said, this particular challenge is a very strong one in our opinion because the First Amendment of the United States Constitution is something that the courts have been consistent in protecting. This particular challenge enjoys the support of the Alliance of Constitutional Sex Offense Laws as well as NARSOL.
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Larry serves as NARSOL’S treasurer, publisher of the Digest, and co-chair of the conference planning committee. He also hosts the “NARSOL in Action” and “Can They Do That?” webinars and is a regular on the “Registry Matters” podcasts.
By Fred . . . Last October, in a lawsuit that was initiated and financed by NARSOL, Federal Judge Marc T. Treadwell ruled against Sheriff Long and other officials of Butts County, Georgia, by granting a preliminary injunction to stop the placement of warning signs each Halloween on the property of those required to be on the sex offender registry. Sheriffs and county officials “. . . should be aware that the authority for their blanket sign posting is dubious at best and even more dubious if posted over the objection of registrants“, Judge Treadwell wrote in his order after agreeing that the practice violated the constitutional rights of registrants.
As he promised to do, Sheriff Long has appealed the decision to the 11th Circuit Court. NARSOL along with ACSOL submitted an amicus brief in support of the appellate challenge being led by Georgia attorneys Mark Yurachek and Mark Begnaud. Last month, NARSOL’s executive director, Brenda Jones, said that NARSOL is confident Judge Treadwell’s decision will be affirmed by the Eleventh Circuit.
The grounds for initiating the lawsuit were in part based on the fact that there is nothing in the state or local law that requires signs to be placed in the yards of registrants. To remedy this lack of legislation, a bill sponsored by State Representatives Steven Sainz(R), Chuck Efstration(R), Barry Fleming(R), James Burchett(R), Martin MomTahan(R) and Marcus Wiedower(R) was introduced to the General Assembly with the aim of making the sign placement and other stipulations part of Georgia’s law. On Thursday HB 720 passed in the House with a vote of 98-63 and is now on its way to the Senate where it has a good chance of passing. The high number of votes in opposition were due, at least in part, to the hard work by NARSOL’s Georgia advocates and other groups in their tireless letter writing campaign.
According to our advocate in Georgia:
Concerned citizens are encouraged to contact Department of Community Supervision Commissioner Michael Nail urging him to publicly oppose HB 720 as it would create a burden on his agency and make our communities less safe. The Senate Judiciary Committee will be responsible for what happens next. Many advocacy groups came together in letter writing campaigns, which was instrumental in creating the the significant opposition. This campaign will only grow stronger as the bill moves through the Senate.
NARSOL fully expected and anticipated this legislative action by the Georgia General Assembly in response to the pending lawsuit, and we understand the concerns that will arise from those affected. However, to sit back and do nothing in the face of a blatant violation to the rights of those on the registry is simply not an option. If one sheriff is allowed to overstep the boundaries of his authority, it would be only a matter of time before every sheriff in Georgia adopted the same policy and expanded its use past just Halloween. NARSOL is determined to not to let that happen for the well-being of all Georgia registrants and their families.
The lawsuit will continue on constitutional grounds, regardless of whether or not HB 720 becomes law. We are confident that we will prevail in court and that any unconstitutional laws passed in retaliation to our legal action will be challenged if they are not struck by the 11th Circuit Court’s decision in this case.
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Fred began volunteering with NARSOL as a gatekeeper and correspondent. Later he became involved with the tech committee to help with the development and maintenance of our many website projects. He devotes much of his time to helping the team ensure that NARSOL’s operations are running as smoothly as possible so that we can continue to grow and reach more people.
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):
By Diane Diamond . . . Those who fight for a more equitable way to keep track of sexual predators won a big victory in Michigan last week. That is a state with some 44,000 names on its sexual offenders registry.
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Cleland put his foot down and gave the Michigan legislature 60 days to rewrite its current “unconstitutional” registry statute. Last spring, Cleland set a 90-day deadline for lawmakers to rework the law, but he was ignored. This time, he’s serious.
Everyone agrees we need to keep track of career sex criminals after they are released from prison. Once they’ve been convicted of violent sex crimes, it’s possible they’ll reoffend. A public safety monitoring system makes sense.
But understand that these state registries — there is one in every state — are bloated beyond belief with many names that shouldn’t be there. Registries were mandated by federal law in the mid-’90s to keep watch over ex-convict pedophiles who sexually targeted children. Somewhere along the line, we lost our way.
Included in the registry over the years have been: a 10-year-old female caught “play-acting sex” and then branded with “criminal sexual conduct” charges; a 19-year-old boy caught with his 15-year-old girlfriend; drunks discovered urinating or streaking in public; average citizens unjustly accused of sex crimes during ugly divorces; and men duped into believing that an intimate partner was not a minor when she was. Many of these people, often caught up in a moment of normal human passion, have been forced to register as sex criminals —for the rest of their lives.