Georgia’s sex offender registry law should be struck down because it makes homelessness a crime, public defender Adam Levin argued to the Georgia Supreme Court yesterday, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The law is fundamentally unfair to homeless sex offenders,” said Levin, who represents William James Santos, charged with failing to register a new address in the sex offender registry. Because this would be his second failure-to-register offense, Santos faces a mandatory life sentence. The registry law, with the harshest penalties in the nation, requires sex offenders to provide a route or street address within 72 hours after being released from custody or moving to a new address. The law states that an offender cannot use “homeless” as an address.
Sex offenders who can afford roofs over their heads can give a proper address, Levin said. But homeless offenders like Santos cannot and are subject to prosecution, he argued. Prosecutor Vanessa Sykes urged the curt to uphold the law and allow Santos’ prosecution to go forward. “He is not being charged with being homeless,” Sykes said. “He is charged with not registering as a sex offender.” Santos is a three-time convicted felon and is exactly the type of offender the sex offender registry law is designed to target, she added. Sykes argued that a sex offender can give “a temporary address” –- such as the location of the bridge they are sleeping under for the night or a car –- even if it is updated on a daily basis. Justice Carol Hunstein said, practically speaking, it might be a good idea for the homeless to find a place to sleep near the local sheriff’s office, where they have to change their address on the registry.