Offender fights registry rule

An Evans man convicted in December 2005 of statutory rape is appealing his placement on Georgia's sex offender registry.

William Archer Stulb, 22, was convicted for having sexual contact in 2003 with a 14-year-old girl when he was 18. He was sentenced under the First Offender Act to one year in jail followed by nine years' probation.

Though Mr. Stulb has been free since December, he has not registered as a sex offender, by a judge's order.

On Friday, Mr. Stulb asked Columbia County Superior Court Judge Duncan Wheale to terminate his probation and resentence him to a misdemeanor so he will not have to register as a sex offender. Failing that, he asked the judge to rule that his placement on the sex offender registry is unconstitutional.

Until state law was changed last year, a sex offender convicted under the First Offender Act would not be required to file under the sex offender registry if a judge terminated probation. But under the new laws enacted in 2006, first offenders must register even if they successfully complete their sentences.

On Friday, Richard Allen, Mr. Stulb's attorney, argued that changes in state law have effectively changed his client's sentence.

"It's lifetime damnation," Mr. Allen said after the hearing. If Mr. Stulb files with the registry, he would face limits on where he can live and work.

"You can't work, you can't go to school without risking 30 years" imprisonment for not registering, Mr. Allen said.

In 2006, Mr. Stulb appealed to the Georgia Court of Appeals after Judge Wheale lengthened his original sentence in a remolding hearing. The appellate court overruled Judge Wheale and reinstated the original sentence.

On Friday, Judge Wheale said the charge against Mr. Stulb could not be reduced to a misdemeanor and that he is not inclined to terminate his probation.

Under the state's so-called Romeo and Juliet clause, minors engaged in sexual relationships can be charged with a misdemeanor if the difference in their ages is less than four years. Mr. Stulb is four years and two months older than his victim.

But the judge said an argument as to the law's constitutionality can be made. He said some clauses in the law, including one that prohibits offenders from "loitering" near churches, are "ambiguous."

The judge said sexual predators who are a danger to society should be monitored. But if reports of teen sex rates at 50 percent are correct, he said, "that tells me as a judge we have half of the high school kids who are sexual offenders. Are we ready to put them on the sex offender registry?"

Judge Wheale said he wanted to hear the opinion of the state's attorney general at a later hearing, and he told Mr. Stulb that if the law is affirmed he would apply it despite his personal feelings.

District Attorney Danny Craig said he is absolutely opposed to an attempt to change sex offenders' sentences.

Sentences shouldn't change just because of an administrative change, he said, calling it a violation of the separation of powers. Legislators make laws, courts enforce them and the people speak through their legislators, he said.

"It's the people speaking. Courts should be averse to taking action opposed to what the people say," Mr. Craig said.

A review of sex offenders sentenced in Richmond County Superior Court since 1990 showed 73 people were sentenced under the First Offender Act, according to a database maintained by The Augusta Chronicle.

A review of court records shows that 14 of those defendants have recently petitioned the court to terminate their sentences early so that they do not have to register as sex offenders.

Reach J. Scott Trubey at 706-868-1222, ext. 109 or jeffery.trubey@augustachronicle.com.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.

WHAT'S NEXT?

The Georgia Supreme Court will soon decide whether a Superior Court judge was correct to find the state's previous 10-year mandatory minimum sentence was correct for a teenager who engaged in sodomy with a consenting younger teenager. If the same crime occurred today between teens less than four years apart, the crime would only be a misdemeanor punishable by a one-year sentence. Legislators changed the law governing punishment under those circumstances, but they didn't make it retroactive to apply to those previously convicted.