Few crimes have the stigma associated with them that sex-related offenses do. The public automatically assumes anyone connected with these offenses is predators and strongly endorses stringent and harsh restrictions on their freedom of movement and the right to participate in certain activities. The punishment of prison, fines, and/or probation is compounded by the fact that individuals convicted of sex offenses almost universally have to register as sex offenders with the state and remain on the list for the rest of their lives.
Registration as a sex offender destroys a person’s livelihood, as the restrictions that go along with registration limit where a registrant may live, work, and spend time. Of course, finding a job when on this list is virtually impossible, and many registered sex offenders find themselves homeless or contemplating intentionally failing to register or update their status just to have a chance at a reasonable life.
Fortunately, with changes made to Georgia law in the 2000s, some registered offenders now have the ability to petition for removal, and if granted, get their life back. For those able to access this opportunity, understanding the rules and process is important to know when to contact a criminal defense attorney, as this procedure is too complex for a registered offender to navigate alone.
Petitioning for Removal
Most people have a decent idea of the restrictions imposed on registered sex offenders, and why someone would go to great lengths to avoid inclusion. Legislators recognized that not all of the individuals initially placed on the list really belonged, while other offenders have proven they are not at risk of reoffending and developed a process that allowed them to ask a judge to be removed in response. Generally, the law allows judges to remove registered offenders in three circumstances:
- The crime was a non-sexual offense against a minor, such as kidnapping or false imprisonment;
- Previous felonies reclassified as misdemeanors involving defendants aged 18 or less at the time of the offense and younger victims 14 or older with no more than a four-year age difference; and
- The sentence was completed and the offender has proven he/she is not a risk to recommit offenses in the future. This group typically needs to be classified as low risk by the Sexual Offender Registration Review Board of Georgia before a court will consider a petition for removal.
Most people fall into the last group, and courts will be looking for the following factors when assessing whether to grant the request:
- No other convictions for a sex offense;
- No evidence the victim was physically restrained;
- No evidence a weapon was used;
- No evidence of physical harm;
- No evidence the victim was transported to another location; and
- No similar activities.
Proving these factors is not easy, which is why a seasoned criminal defense attorney is needed in these situations.