District attorney, state senator look to close loophole in sex offender registry

Chuck Payne

DALTON, Ga. — People on the sex offender registry in the state should have to obey all reporting requirements, says state Sen. Chuck Payne.

Payne, a Republican from Dalton, said he was surprised when Conasauga District Attorney Bert Poston (Whitfield and Murray counties) brought it to his attention that in some circumstances there are lower legal penalties for an individual on the registry who fails to update his or her information as required.

“I’ve been working with him, and Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, and I have introduced a bill to clarify the language in the sex offender registry law and close that loophole. We hope to get that passed in the next session (which starts in January),” Payne said.

Poston said the issue first came to his attention last year.

“All persons required to register go through a classification process by the Sexual Offender Registration Review Board. That results in a rating of 1, 2, 3 or ‘sexually dangerous predator,’” Poston said. “Level 1 is the least dangerous, least likely to reoffend, and obviously ‘sexually dangerous predators’ are considered the most dangerous and most likely to reoffend. Persons classified as sexually dangerous predators have additional registration requirements including that they update their registration twice annually. Once on their birthday like all sex offenders and once six months after their birthday (on their half-birthday).”

Poston said his office was handling a case of a sex offender who failed to update his information on his “half-birthday.”

“I don’t believe we’d had that charge come through the office before and in the process of researching the law and preparing the charges we discovered that the legislation creating that requirement had failed to specify any penalty for violating that particular part of the code section,” he said. “Failure to register generally (on the birthday) is a felony carrying a penalty of one to 30 years, or five to 30 on a second offense. But failure to register on the half-birthday for the most dangerous offenders, because of the absence of sentencing provisions in the statute, has to be prosecuted as a misdemeanor by default.”

Poston said it doesn’t appear

that’s what lawmakers intended.

“SB (Senate Bill) 269 as currently written addresses a couple of different issues, but some of those were fixed by a different bill last session, so we are in the process of stripping those parts out of 269 which will leave it addressing this issue alone,” Poston said. “The final bill should only be one to two pages and will make the failure to update registration by sexually dangerous predators on their half-birthday a ... felony just like failure to register on their birthday.”

Poston said the Office of Legislative Counsel has to go over the bill before Payne can officially drop the new version and a hearing on the bill can be scheduled.

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