Lawmakers seek sex predator tracking bill that’s constitutional

Hundreds of Georgia sex offenders deemed dangerous enough that they were forced to wear ankle monitors last year are no longer tracked in the wake of a March 2019 Georgia Supreme Court decision. Mario Tama/Getty Images

Georgia legislators aim to close a loophole that’s now preventing the state from using ankle monitors to track more than 400 sex offenders.

Some House and Senate lawmakers are backing legislation that would give judges the ability to impose lifetime electronic monitoring as part of someone’s sentence if a sex offender is deemed to have a strong chance of reoffending.

The proposals follow a Georgia Supreme Court ruling that it is unconstitutional for the state to require around-the-clock GPS tracking after the felony sex offender has completed their sentence.

The 2019 ruling forced the state to stop using ankle monitors on 412 of the 1,054 people classified by a governor-appointed state review board as “sexually dangerous” predators.

The court’s decision, however, does not prevent legislators from changing the law so lifetime electronic monitoring can still be mandated when the worst culprits are sentenced in court.

State Sen. Randy Robertson said he plans to file legislation this session giving judges the authority to determine the length of electronic surveillance.

That was the recommendation of a Senate study committee that the Cataula Republican served on last year.

“We’re working on some legislation that will address some of the gaps we feel are in the way of state monitoring,” Robertson said last week. “Our intent is to make our laws regarding monitoring sex offenders probably some of the toughest in the country.”

While Robertson and some of his colleagues work on their own legislation, a bill introduced late in the House last session remains alive this year.

House Bill 720, sponsored by Rep. Steven Sainz, a Woodbine Republican, would continue allowing the state’s Sex Offender Registration Review Board to evaluate whether an offender should be classified as a sexually dangerous predator, but it would leave the final decision to judges.

Critics of giving the state review board sole-discretion derided its lack of transparency and for the panel sometimes classifying someone as a dangerous sexual predator long after the person is initially sentenced.

However, if the law was changed so that all felony sex offenses could have a lifetime probation sentence, it could lead to another unconstitutional result, says attorney Mark Yurachek, who was involved in last year’s Supreme Court case.

In that proceeding, Yurachek represented a man convicted of child molestation and sexual exploitation of a minor who fought the legality of having to wear an ankle monitor once his sentence was over.

Georgia law already requires life imprisonment or probation for anyone convicted of forcible rape, felony aggravated child molestation, felony aggravated sodomy and aggravated sexual battery.

Yurachek said empowering a judge to impose lifetime probation for all felony sex offenses could result in overzealous judges giving the maxiumum to a 19-year-old convicted of statutory rape for having sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend.

“There are judges in this state who would not consider the weight of the gravity of the circumstances,” he said. “Not only does it seem ridiculous to give someone a life sentence for engaging in that behavior, it also, in my opinion, demeans the severity of other crimes.”

However, letting a judge make that decision in an open courtroom is better than the current process, said Yurachek and attorney Jason Sheffield, who was also involved in the state Supreme Court case.

“The best case scenario is where the law builds in a process to have this designation reviewed after awhile to afford him due process to come back in court with his own experts, to allow testimony to show how that person has reformed through counseling,” Sheffield said.

Yurachek also says lawmakers need to better define what is considered a sexually dangerous predator.

“The state’s current definition of sexually dangerous predator is potentially unconstitutionally vague,” he said.

Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.