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Removing the scarlet letter

Decades ago, our state established the Georgia Sex Offender Registry (SOR).  The purpose of SOR is to protect our citizens from sexually dangerous predators by identifying offenders that present the greatest risk of sexually re-offending.

However, many people who are registered with SOR should not be because they pose no danger to society.

In 2010, the Georgia General Assembly addressed this problem by passing a law allowing certain sex offenders to petition the courts for removal from SOR. Since then, numerous “low-risk” (known as Leve1) individuals convicted of sex crimes have been removed from SOR and have regained freedom. Registration as a sex offender is required by individuals convicted of a “dangerous sexual offense” or an offense that involved “a victim who is a minor.” These offenses include: sexual exploitation of a minor, child molestation, enticing a minor, statutory rape, aggravated sexual battery, child pornography and other offenses that involve a minor, such as kidnapping or false imprisonment.

Registration is required whether or not the offense and conviction occurred in Georgia as long as the person currently resides in the state and the out of state conviction is similar to one of these definitions.

In order to petition the court, the person must have completed all required incarceration, parole, probation, and supervision as part of their sentence for the sex offense. Once the person’s sentence is complete, he can seek removal from the registry if 10 years have passed since the end of their sentence; or the person has been designated as a Level I by the Sexual Offender Registration and Review Board (SORRB.)

There are also six other factors that determine an offender’s eligibility:

4The person must not have any prior convictions for sex crimes or crimes against minors;

4The person did not use a deadly weapon likely to cause serious harm during their sex offense;

4The person did not transport the victim during the offense;

4The person did not physically restrain the victim during the offense;

4The person did not intentionally cause the victim physical harm; and

4There is no evidence of similar crimes.

If a person is eligible, they must then file a petition for release in Superior Court. Usually, the petitioner needs to be classified to be eligible for removal.  Here, the judge will order that SORRB classify the individual.

I was fortunate to have served on SORRB for years. During that time, it was made clear that we were ultimately looking for only one thing; determining the likelihood that a sex offender will engage in another crime against a victim who is a minor, or a dangerous sexual offense.

All of the character letters in the world will not make a difference in the evaluation.   

If SORRB classifies the person as a Level I, or if ten years have elapsed since the person completed their sentence, the case will proceed to a removal hearing where the judge must determine if the petitioner should be removed.

At the court hearing, the judge will determine whether the person is substantially likely to commit a dangerous sexual offense in the future. While there are many forms of evidence that can be presented, the most effective presentation always includes expert testimony from a forensic psychologist who has evaluated the person. If the court finds that the person does not pose a substantial risk of committing another sex offense, it may either remove him from the registry or remove conditions of registration.

If successful, a petitioner is only removed from SOR in Georgia. Each state operates its own registry and has its own rules.

In general, SOR is a good thing for Georgia because dangerous offenders can be heavily supervised.  However, there are many people on SOR who pose no risk of re-offending.  These people deal with the stigma of being on SOR, missed employment opportunities, missed housing opportunities, and the loss of freedom to do many things. 

For these people, justice requires that the “Scarlet Letter” of SOR be removed.