On June 20, 2006, six low-level sex offenders filed a class action lawsuit against the State of Georgia in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, challenging provisions of the new sex offender law that prevent sex offenders from living and working within one-thousand feet of school bus stops and churches. The plaintiffs, represented by the Southern Center for Human Rights and the ACLU of Georgia, had all committed their crimes when they were young (often statutory / consensual sex acts with a person a few years younger), and they argued that the 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 argued that new 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 for the Northern District of Georgia (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 respective 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 District Court (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 District Court's issuance of the TRO, three counties designated their "bus stops" to remove the ambiguity, and then entered into consent orders that barred the defendants from enforcing the law until further order of the Court. The defendants 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 respective 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 to 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 December 5, 2007, the parties agreed to stay the case pending the outcome of Mann v. Department of Corrections [CJ-GA-0005].
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.
On March 30, 2009 the District Court issued an order certifying as a class "all persons who are registered, are required to register, or in the future will be required to register as sex offenders pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 42-1-12." Within the same order, the District Court granted the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction restraining the defendants from enforcing the sex offender law, insofar as it restricts 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.
While there has been supplemental briefing on the motions for summary judgment filled by both parties, as of March 3, 2012, the district court has not ruled on those motions.Justin Benson - 03/03/2012