Georgia high court pushes lawmakers to fix sex offender monitoring

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

    Georgia lawmakers are working to update state laws that govern which sex offenders get sentenced to wear ankle monitors for life after the state’s highest court ruled earlier this year that the devices need to come off once an offender’s sentence ends.

    Time is of the essence, as hundreds of sex offenders deemed dangerous enough to warrant ankle monitors are no longer tracked in the wake of the Georgia Supreme Court’s March decision.

    A state Senate study committee Wednesday began puzzling through the implications of the court’s ruling that says requiring Georgians convicted of sex crimes to wear tracking devices after they serve their sentences is an unreasonable search and seizure, which violates the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

    State law now gives the governor-appointed Sexual Offender Registration Review Board sole authority to classify a convicted sex offender as a “sexually dangerous predator” – offenders who the board deems a risk to commit more sex crimes. The board reviews the person’s background, including their psychological profile and criminal history, to make a determination they’re a dangerous predator. A sexually dangerous predator in Georgia now has to wear a monitoring device for life.

    Lawmakers are considering changes to that definition in light of the March court ruling

    State lawmakers made little progress at the Wednesday discussion to frame new rules for legislation they hope to pass during the 2020 legislative session.

    “I don’t know what the answer is,” state Sen. Greg Kirk, an Americus Republican who sponsored the study committee. “But at the end of the day, if you’re a sexually dangerous predator, I want you followed for life in the state of Georgia.”

    Of the state’s roughly 12,000 sex offenders, about 1,000 are classified as sexually dangerous predators, said Tracy Alvord, the review board’s executive director. Of those 1,000 people, more than 400 are now free to walk around in public without an ankle monitor. Alvord said the lack of oversight could lead to an uptick in sex crimes.

    “I think it will be interesting down the road for us to see now that they won’t be monitored after their sentence is complete, if that re-offending will start increasing due to lack of monitoring for them,” Alvord said at Wednesday’s hearing.

    The review board is often bogged down with a backlog of cases and typically classifies sex offenders long after a judge hands down a sentence, often even after an offender is out prison, Alvord said.

    An Atlanta attorney who specializes in representing sex offenders told the Senate panel the new law should leave the ankle monitoring decision up to the sentencing judge.

    “The problem is that (state law) doesn’t give prosecutors, judges, the offender or me any guidance as to who is going to be a sexually dangerous predator,” said Mark Yurachek, who represented the convicted offender at the center of the March court ruling. “It gets down to the old legal saying of, ‘I know it when I see it.’”

    Kirk agreed, adding that whatever legislation comes out of the study committee also needs to avoid expanding state law in a way that would tack lifetime ankle monitors onto sentences for every sex offender, but only for those deemed sexually dangerous predators.

    “We’re not going to cast a net and punish everyone,” Kirk said.

    Beau Evans
    Beau Evans has covered local and state government and breaking news in New Orleans and California. He’s reported on immigration issues, the threat of rising seas to coastal areas, public safety and hurricanes. At The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Evans detailed the critical role government plays to ensure that people in a community have access to clean water and other public needs. In 2018, his investigative reporting revealed top officials at New Orleans’ cash-poor water utility dealt themselves huge raises, prompting several to resign. Evans’ prior reporting was in West Marin north of San Francisco for The Point Reyes Light. Evans is an Atlanta native who graduated with honors from The Lovett School and is an honors graduate of North Carolina’s Davidson College.