Sex offender sues over life sentence for not registering

ATLANTA --- Georgia's tough sex offender laws turned Cedric Bradshaw into something of a nomad.

Twice he moved in with relatives in Statesboro, and twice he was forced to leave because he was violating Georgia's sex offender law by living too close to spots where children gather.

After the 25-year-old was arrested for failing to register as an offender -- his second time doing so -- he was sentenced with the only punishment allowed by the law: life in prison.

Mr. Bradshaw's lawyers will ask Georgia's top court Monday to reduce his punishment in the latest test for the state's oft-challenged sex offender laws. While others have targeted the residency restrictions, Mr. Bradshaw's challenge takes aim at the criminal penalties as "cruel and unusual punishment."

"It's not like this guy is out chasing children, yet the law required him to receive a life sentence," said Robert Persse, a public defender who is Mr. Bradshaw's attorney. "And we believe that constitutes cruel and unusual punishment because the penalty is totally disproportionate to the crime."

Prosecutors contend they were following the letter of the law and that there's no question legislators clearly intended to raise the criminal penalties.

"That should be used as the best evidence of legislative intent -- and society's view on the punishment," said Scott Brannen, an assistant district attorney in Statesboro.

Since the measure was passed, it has been tangled up in a series of court challenges. A lawsuit targeting the school bus stop portion of the measure is still pending, as is a separate challenge targeting a provision that could evict offenders who live near churches or volunteer at them.

Legislators were forced to retool the law this year to allow sex offenders who own their homes to stay there if a center where children gather later opens up nearby. The Georgia Supreme Court had ruled that the measure didn't protect the property rights of offenders.

Mr. Bradshaw was 19 when he was sentenced to five years in prison on statutory rape charges in December 2001. After he was released on parole in 2006, he was slapped with 10 years of probation for not registering his address with the offender registry.

ABOUT THE LAW

The 2006 measure bans sex offenders from living, working or loitering within 1,000 feet of just about anywhere children gather. That includes schools, churches, parks, gyms, swimming pools or one of the state's 150,000 school bus stops.

It also increases the maximum sentence for a second failure to register from a maximum of three years in prison to a mandatory life sentence.

The change applies to all sex offenders.