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Due Process for Me But Not for Thee

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I can’t think of a less sympathetic group to defend than sex offenders. But here I go.

TalkLeft had a post up the other day about the predicament in which many former sex offenders find themselves once they have served their sentences and are released into communities that don’t want them. From TChris:

Here’s a Catch-22 for you: Laws regulating where former sex offenders may live are so restrictive that, in urban areas, former offenders can find no housing (forcing them, in this famous example, to live under a bridge). But former sex offenders have to register their addresses, and the homeless have no address to register. So if they find a home, they’re breaking the law by living too close to (for instance) a park or school; if they remain homeless, they’re breaking the law by not registering.

Which all seems hypothetical. Until it’s not. Larry Moore, a convicted sex offender who successfully served his time in prison for a 1994 offense, was convicted last week of failing to register his address. Because he was homeless. Because the laws, which restrict where he can live, left him nowhere he was able tolive. In Georgia, where he was convicted, this second conviction carries a mandatory life sentence.

Mr. Moore is one of 15 former sex offenders who have been arrested for homelessness since the law requiring their registration took effect in July. He registered twice after the law went into effect but was unable to maintain a permanent address because he could not afford, on his salary from Popeye’s chicken, to pay for a hotel room indefinitely. And he couldn’t find a home that fit within the law’s narrow parameters.

Now, there’s no doubt that sex offenses are serious. But once a person has completed his sentence, he has paid his debt. His punishment is supposed to be up. Yet these laws continue to punish people — indeed, robbing them of their due process rights by making it impossible for them to live without violating the law. Either they’re too close to a school or church or they’re homeless and thus cannot register. And, the ACLU (which has challenged GA’s sex offender registry law before)is arguing in Mr. Moore’s case, sending a man to jail for life because he is homeless amounts to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

As TChris notes (and I agree), the combination of laws restricting where sex offenders can live and requiring them to register drive them off the map and underground . . . or directly back into prison. Which perhaps was the GA legislature’s intent. But it’s not in keeping with the Constitution.

update: Slate has more.

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