There are times when the law may have gone too far. A prime example is registration in a sex offender registry.
If a criminal has not committed a sexual offense, should he be required to register as a sex offender? This pointed question has been in the media since the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that a man must register as a sex offender despite the fact that he never committed a sexual offense. The petty thief’s name will now be logged in the registry right next to serial child rapists, sex traffickers, child molesters and child pornographers.
Being a registered sex offender also means being prohibited from living near churches, schools or parks. If the individual wishes to move, neighborhood residents in the area will pillory him before he even arrives, afraid of what he might do to their children. Does the punishment suit the crime? Should teens caught sexting be made to register as sex offenders? Where does society draw the line? Where is real justice? And, furthermore, what about the rights of the offender?
Contrary to popular opinion, offenders of any caliber do have legal rights and are entitled to exercise them, and that includes sex offenders. However, these days it appears that what constitutes a sex offender is not as clear as it may have been at one time. It is not right, nor constitutional, that those who have not committed sexual offenses bear the same stigma as those who are considered to be “serious” and dangerous offenders.
The case that caused the media uproar in Georgia deals with a man who was 18-years-old when he lined up a deal to buy marijuana from a 17-year-old girl. He and three friends did not make the buy. Instead, they robbed the girl and dumped her out of the car. This man is to be branded a sex offender. The question is “Why?” How is that justice?
A criminal defense lawyer would argue that putting a client such as that on a sex offender registry would be cruel and unusual punishment. The stigma of being labeled a registered sex offender would dog that individual for life; a life that may well be destroyed forever for only doing something dumb. The Georgia Supreme Court did not agree with that defense. Their ratio decidendi stated that the registration requirements, in and of themselves, do not constitute punishment and that “it is of no consequence whether or not one has committed an offense that is ‘sexual’ in nature.”
The truth of the matter is that most Americans consider that those listed in a sex offender registry are convicted sexual deviants. It appears that “all” of them may not be, and that does not speak well to justice in America.