Georgia's Sex Offender Law Challenged in Federal Court

20th June, 2006
ROME, GEORGIA , Tuesday June 20, 2006 – A class action lawsuit is being filed today in U.S. District Court challenging HB 1059, the Georgia sex offender legislation passed in 2006 by the General Assembly. Lawyers from the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) and the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia are asking the Court to stop the enforcement of HB 1059, scheduled to go into effect on July 1, 2006.

If the 1,000 feet restrictions of HB 1059 go into effect, the results will be catastrophic for families across Georgia.  Thousands of people on the registry will be forced to evacuate their homes, give up their jobs and livelihoods, lose their health insurance, cease attending religious services, abandon treatment programs, and will be torn from their families and their communities.

“In addition to being patently illegal, this law is a public policy disaster that will do irreparable damage to thousands of Georgia’s families and make women and children less safe,” says Sarah Geraghty an SCHR attorney representing the Plaintiffs.

HB 1059 applies to everyone on the registry without exception– including people like Wendy Whitaker who is on the registry because she, at age 17, had a single consensual act of oral sex with a 15-year-old male.  Because of this one act, committed ten years ago, Ms. Whitaker and her husband are now being forced from their home. Joseph Linaweaver was 16 when he had a single consensual act of oral sex with his 14-year-old girlfriend.  Because of this act, he is preparing to leave his entire family and move to Wisconsin rather than face being homeless and jobless in Georgia. Janet Allison was convicted of being a “party to the crime of child molestation and statutory rape” because she did not do enough to prevent her 15-year-old daughter from becoming sexually active.  Due to this conviction, Ms. Allison is being forced to move from her home to avoid HB 1059's minimum sentence of 10 years in prison. 

The 1,000 feet restrictions of HB 1059 prohibit people on the registry from living or loitering within 1,000 feet of any child care facility, church, school or "area where minors congregate," including all parks and recreation facilities, playgrounds, skating rinks, neighborhood centers, gymnasiums, swimming pools, and most problematically, school bus stops.  People on the registry are also prohibited from working at or within 1,000 feet of a church, school or day care.

The intention of these restrictions is to reduce the likelihood of sexual violence against children, yet experts agree that residency restrictions do not promote children’s safety. Rather, by aggravating the scarcity of housing options for people on the registry, these restrictions sever people from treatment and community support, and destabilize families.  

The sheer quantity of school bus stops throughout Georgia makes it extremely difficult to find housing that meets the requirements of HB 1059 and the growing consensus among local jurisdictions that the inclusion of school bus stops in HB 1059 – which are unmarked and ever-changing depending on the needs of each neighborhood- makes these restrictions vague and unworkable and inadvertently dilutes the integrity and reliability of the registry itself.

This lawsuit is being filed Tuesday morning in US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia in Rome.  The named Defendants include Governor Sonny Perdue, Attorney General Thurbert Baker, and Polk County law enforcement officials.  Attorneys for the Plaintiffs are seeking a Preliminary Injunction to stop state and local entities from enforcing the 1,000 feet restrictions from school bus stops and churches on and after its July 1, 2006 effective date.

To read the complaint, click here.

To read Fairness for Prisoners' Families Guide to Understanding HB1059, the Georgia Sex Offender Legislation, click here.