On June 20, 2006, six low-level sex offenders filed this class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, against the state of Georgia. The plaintiffs, represented by the Southern Center for Human Rights and the ACLU of Georgia, challenged provisions of the state's new sex offender law that prevented sex offenders from living and working within one-thousand feet of school bus stops and churches. The plaintiffs had committed their crimes when they were young (often statutory / consensual sex acts with a person a few years younger), and argued that the Georgia law violated their rights because it did not distinguish between low-level and high-level sex offenders, nor did it allow them to seek an exemption. They further alleged that the law automatically exposed persons to felony prosecution and forced nearly all sex offenders out of their homes, and that it would also undercut church efforts to reform sex offenders.
On June 27, 2006, the U.S. District Court Judge Clarence Cooper granted a restraining order against the enforcement of the bus stop portion of the law and scheduled further hearings. The court's discussion focused on whether or not "bus stops," as defined in the statute, meant places where school buses actually stopped to pick up schoolchildren, or places formally designated as bus stops by the relevant school board. The court ruled that "bus stops" must be designated, and since no school board had yet designated any bus stops, the court denied the Motion for Preliminary Injunction.
On June 29, 2006, the Judge Cooper certified a plaintiff class of all persons who registered with the State of Georgia as sex offenders on or before July 1, 2006 and who reside within 1000 feet of a currently-designated school bus stop or a school bus stop designated in the future.
Following the issuance of the TRO (temporary restraining order), three counties designated their "bus stops" to remove the ambiguity, and then entered into consent orders that barred enforcement of the law until further order of the court. The plaintiffs then filed another motion for preliminary injunction challenging the residency restrictions barring a home within one-thousand feet of a church. This was filed on behalf of nine elderly and sick sex offenders who mostly live in nursing homes. Each of the affected counties allowed these sex offenders to remain in their nursing homes.
The District Court permitted the key portions of the plaintiffs' case to move forward, including challenges based on the following constitutional provisions: (1) Article 1, § 10 of the Georgia Constitution, which provides that states cannot pass laws that increase punishments for criminal acts after they have been committed ; (2) the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which protects certain fundamental rights from being infringed upon; and (3) the Free Exercise Clause of the United States Constitution, which protects religious beliefs and religious practices.
On October 14, 2008 the plaintiffs filled their 4th amended complaint. The plaintiffs made clear that the most significant part of their challenge to the law involved the school bus stop provisions.
Prompted by some changes to the law, in March 2009, the Court decertified the previously defined class and certified several new subclasses, including all persons who are registered, are required to register, or will be required to register in the future as sex offenders pursuant to § 42-1-15 who (1) reside in counties in which the school board has designated school bus stops for purposes of § 42-1-15 and (2) either do not own their own homes or do not fall within the homeowner exemption of § 42-1-15(f) or (g), as determined by the sheriff in the county where such persons are registered. The 2009 order found that one of the plaintiffs had standing to represent this subclass because she was leasing a residence that fell within 1,000 feet of a school bus stop in Columbia County.
Within the same March 2009 order, the District Court granted the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction restraining the defendants from enforcing the sex offender law's provision that barred registered sex offenders from engaging in volunteer activities at church. The district court found that "because the Church Volunteer/Employment Provision fails to provide fair warning to Plaintiffs or adequate guidance to law enforcement, it is substantially likely that it is unduly and unconstitutionally vague." Lastly, the District Court denied the defendants' motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' takings claim on behalf of renters affected by the sex offender law.
In September 2010, the Court approved the plaintiff's voluntary dismissal of several claims. But the school bus stop claim based on substantive due process and vagueness remained. Then, in March 2011, the Court allowed the Plaintiffs to substitute new named plaintiffs. However, the counties in which the plaintiffs lived rescinded the bus stop designations. Accordingly, on September 30, 2013, the District Court dismissed what was left of the case, finding no remaining plaintiffs with standing to bring it. This case is closed.Justin Benson - 03/03/2012
Saeeda Joseph-Charles - 11/14/2016