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Ric Latarski - Ruling shows need for tiered sex-offender status

The Georgia Supreme Court, in an astonishing moment of lucid thought, struck down the portion of the Georgia sex offender law that essentially restricted a registered sex offender from living anywhere.

In a unanimous ruling, the High Court ruled the provision of the statute forbidding a registered sex offender from living within 1,000 feet of certain designated areas, such as a school bus stop or day care center, was unconstitutional.

While there may be a clarification on exactly what the ruling means, there can be little doubt the ruling of the Supreme Court sent a clear message to the legislature this area needs addressing.

I have no problem being tough on criminals, be they sex offenders or shoplifters. I would not have a problem stoning people who park illegally in the handicapped spaces during the holidays.

But in the real world, we need to be reasonable when it comes to passing laws dealing with the lowest elements of our society. Our laws need to be tough but they also need to be directed at the right people and with the proper purpose.

Right after the Supreme Court ruling, there were some legislators who starting squalling about how the court thwarted the will of the people and undermined the law.

The sad part is, these are the very legislators who are too dim witted to even understand how wrong they are and that they are responsible for the problem.

We have too many legislators whose main goal is to promote their own agendas of self-aggrandizement, all under the guise of protecting the public and doing the will of the people.

They wrap themselves in the flag, Bible or bourbon and demand we get tough on criminals, knowing this sits well with the voting public. The idea sounds good and the public generally agrees.

The problems arise when the notion of getting tough on crime becomes clouded by people who are divorced from the problem because they don't understand the ramifications of the laws they pass.

The public want criminals to get their just desserts but the public should also have a reasonable expectation that the laws being passed will actually have the desired effect and not create a revolving door of litigation.

The ill-advised residency restrictions for sex offenders did far more harm than good. Despite repeated concerns of some pretty credible people who know the system, such as the Georgia Sheriff's Association and numerous district attorneys, the General Assembly charged ahead like a drunken moose.

The requirements were irrational and created as much difficulty for law enforcement as they did for the sex offender.

Even the dullards responsible for sponsoring the now dead legislation should have been able to see its shortcomings, but it's tough to see the world when you are looking through your own smoke.

The second part of this issue is the definition of sex offender. There is a tremendous difference between the 17-year-old who has unforced sex with a 15-year-old and the pedophile who abducts and rapes a child.

I say unforced because under Georgia law, a 15-year-old cannot have consensual sex even if he or she says yes. This may seem like a detail, but it is this very detail that results in a lot of teenagers facing felony charges and having to register as sex offenders for the rest or their lives.

While we may not like the idea of teenagers having sex, be it the Bill Clinton definition or not, the reality is that these cases are a far cry from what we should identify as the "predator sex offender".

The General Assembly needs to recognize this, and perhaps it is time to create a tiered system of sex offender categories. Just as the Sugar Bowl is not the same as the Independence Bowl, although both are played in Louisiana, one sex offender may not be the same as another.

There should also be a review process by which a registered sex offender can have a case examined by appropriate authorities to determine if that should be a designation for life.

Someone who gets a statutory rape conviction when they are 17 and lives the next 20 years as a law abiding citizen, and maybe even marries the victim in the case, should have the opportunity to have the requirement that they register as a sex offender re-examined.

Naturally, this should depend on the specific facts and circumstances and be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Sex offenders are some of the most devious and vile creatures that inhabit the human forest and they should be treated as severely as their conduct calls for, which means we need laws to clearly define where that conduct fits with regard to protecting the public in the real world.

The Georgia Supreme Court has sent a message that we do not need a cookie-cutter code book and how laws really work does matter. The question remains: Is the General Assembly listening?