Should this sex offender relocate?

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ATLANTA --- Ongoing litigation over the state's stringent restrictions on sex offenders recently opened up a new wrinkle in the controversial law.

At what point does a registered sex offender actually own a home?

In filings this week in federal court, Harlem resident Wendy Whitaker, the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking to defeat the restrictions, is asking a judge to issue a preliminary injunction prohibiting the Columbia County Sheriff's Office from kicking her out of a home she moved to in February.

Ms. Whitaker has already moved twice because of the restrictions and dreads the thought of having to do so again.

"Now I'm ready to pack a bag at a moment's notice," she said. "I'm just hoping and praying that it is going to be all right. I'm tired of moving."

Ms. Whitaker, 28, pleaded guilty to sodomy after having consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old classmate when she was 17. She was sentenced to probation and required to register as a sex offender.

In January 2006, she and her husband purchased the home, not knowing it was within 1,000 feet of a church with a day-care center, a fact that forced her to move.

The couple moved across the border to South Carolina until the Georgia Supreme Court struck down the restrictions late last year.

A revised law that took effect this month remedied that issue by exempting offenders who owned their home as of July 1, 2006, from the restrictions.

But Ms. Whitaker's name wasn't added to the deed until 2007.

A sheriff's investigator called her last week and told her she would have to move within 48 hours or face arrest. Offenders convicted of violating the restrictions can be sentenced to a maximum 10 years in prison.

Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle -- along with 158 other sheriffs -- has agreed to hold off on enforcing the restrictions until the judge decides whether they are unconstitutional.

"They just want instructions," said Augusta attorney David Hudson, who represents the sheriffs. "And until they get some instructions in Ms. Whitaker's case, they are not going to enforce it against her until the court rules one way or the other." Mr. Hudson also represents newspapers owned by Morris Communications Co. LLC.

Attorneys for the state are asking the judge to ignore that request, saying sex offenders have a propensity to reoffend and that Ms. Whitaker should press the issue in state court rather than federal court.

Sarah Geraghty, Ms. Whitaker's attorney, said exactly what constitutes homeownership under the law is one issue in the case.

"But the broader issue is whether the Legislature can pass a law retroactively evicting Wendy from her home," Ms. Geraghty said.

In November, the state's highest court ruled that forcing offenders who already owned a home to move was unconstitutional because it amounted to unlawful taking of property.

To fix that, lawmakers added the exemption for offenders if they established property ownership.

Ms. Whitaker said she and her husband pay the mortgage on their home through a joint bank account, which she says gives her ownership rights.

Moreover, Ms. Geraghty contends that restrictions should be more nuanced, with different requirements for serious offenders and those such as Ms. Whitaker, who participated in consensual sex.

"The concern is that Georgia's registry is bloated with people who don't need to be there," she said.

Proponents of the restrictions say they prevent offenders from reoffending by barring them from living, working or volunteering within 1,000 feet of schools, churches and other places children gather.

Opponents say there is no proof the restrictions protect anyone, and that they actually increase the chances of a new offense because they keep offenders from reintegrating into society.

The restrictions have come under various challenges this year. A Jefferson store owner whose business was close to a building that doubled as a church asked a judge to exempt him from the restrictions because he did not work the same time the church was in session. He later withdrew the request.

A group of sex offenders is also challenging the restriction that keeps them from volunteering at church, saying it criminalizes their practice of religion.

Offenders can apply to be removed from the registry 10 years after they complete their sentence, including probation. But they must gain approval from a judge, who considers their criminal record.

Reach Jake Armstrong at (404) 589-8424 or jake.armstrong@morris.com.

Comments (94) Add comment
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JimiBob
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JimiBob 07/21/08 - 01:06 am
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wow, just wow

wow, just wow

PTHS2
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PTHS2 07/21/08 - 01:29 am
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I wish they had posted a

I wish they had posted a picture of her husband too. I have this morbid curiousity....

Nammy
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Nammy 07/21/08 - 01:35 am
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Somehow I don't find that at

Somehow I don't find that at all strange, PTHS! LOL Morning here and not there...giggles.

SargentMidTown
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SargentMidTown 07/21/08 - 02:33 am
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What about drug dealers ?

What about drug dealers ? Shouldn't convicted drug dealers have the same restrictions as sex offenders ? It is common to see drug dealers back selling dope after they get out of jail.

Marco
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Marco 07/21/08 - 02:36 am
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OMG! Maryann has put on the

OMG! Maryann has put on the pounds and other activities in her life. Put her on a barge and create an artificial reef when you sink it.

NEone
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NEone 07/21/08 - 03:12 am
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The sex offender laws MUST be

The sex offender laws MUST be changed to differentiate between teens having sex with other teens and the violent, power-hungry, controlling behavior of true rapists and child molesters. This is ridiculous.

aikshop1
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aikshop1 07/21/08 - 03:52 am
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They need to ban her from

They need to ban her from 1000 ft of a refrigerator!

MAOSETUNG
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MAOSETUNG 07/21/08 - 04:43 am
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she shouldn't have to move,

she shouldn't have to move, just make her stay atleast 2,000 ft from any krispy kreme joints,buffets,or nail salons, or bus stops where soldiers gather.

skeptical
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skeptical 07/21/08 - 05:20 am
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NEone nailed it - we have a

NEone nailed it - we have a ridiculous law on the books and our legislators don't have the will to fix it. Why do we tolerate such foolishness?

Perpetually penalizing people who engaged in oral sex over a decade ago? Come on.

(Although I do wonder whether she was the 17 year old or the 15 year old . . )

Trouble
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Trouble 07/21/08 - 05:24 am
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LMAO, you people are mean,

LMAO, you people are mean, and that is why i love this place, i will say however that i agree with neone there is a huge difference between teenagers having consentual sex and child rapists, and that difference does need to have a place in law.

bone
23
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bone 07/21/08 - 05:37 am
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how did she and her husband

how did she and her husband buy the house without her name being on the deed until a year later? whether or not this is resolved in favor of this lady, yet another cautionary tale to share with kids about sex. if this poor woman weren't white, she may have already received the support of the genarlow wilson crowd that got a rapist released from prison.

patriciathomas
42
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patriciathomas 07/21/08 - 06:36 am
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NEone has it spot on. From

NEone has it spot on. From what this article reports, this woman isn't a sex offender. This law needs a serious overhaul.

justputtin
1384
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justputtin 07/21/08 - 06:41 am
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I agree, Neone is dead on.

I agree, Neone is dead on.

bone
23
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bone 07/21/08 - 06:50 am
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just tellin' the truth,

just tellin' the truth, success - no hate for any race in my heart.

getalife
4
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getalife 07/21/08 - 06:52 am
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Where are Jesse and Al when

Where are Jesse and Al when you need them?

426Hemi
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426Hemi 07/21/08 - 07:02 am
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pork-id

pork-id

seeknow
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seeknow 07/21/08 - 07:13 am
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The larger issue here is the

The larger issue here is the political class siezing an opportunity to score political points by passing laws without considering the possible impact on individual liberty. I imagine that some terrible case (or series of cases) of child molestation preceded the passing of this ill concieved concept. Punishing people by trying to control where they live after they have served thier sentence is a novel idea that is easy for a politician to support. Someone who dared to oppose it they would have been branded "the pro pervert" candidate and would'nt have a prayer of explaining the complex unintended consqeuences like uhhh extending the power of the state to regulating raging hormones in the bodies of perfectly normal teenagers then labeling them for life crippling them in many ways including where they can or can't liveI dont know about you guys but when I was 15 or 17 or 19 the urge to explore the opposite sex absolutely trumped concepts of legality, morality, etiquette or religious beliefs. It is horrific to imagine that "going too far" in the course of this exploration could result in such severe criminal penalties. The misapplication of this law is a crime in and of itself.

stillamazed
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stillamazed 07/21/08 - 07:23 am
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This is absolutely

This is absolutely ridiculous, a 15 year old and a 17 year old. These laws need a serious overhaul. Teens are smarter and alot more promiscuous than adults give them credit for. There are girls having babies at 12 and 13, are all those guys getting them pregnant on the sex offender list? The sex offenders I am worried about are rapist and child molesters, certainly not teens who have had sex with other teens. Good article to start out my day with.......

ListenAndLearn
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ListenAndLearn 07/21/08 - 07:25 am
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I'm ashamed of some of the

I'm ashamed of some of the comments I read on here many times but this morning I don't even know what to say to shallow minded judgemental people. How many people posting on here this morning had "consensual sex" with a younger person and did NOT get caught. I have a feeling we could ALL have been arrested for something we did NOT get caught doing. But here we are judging others. I'm glad my parents were hard on me and Lord knows I deserved more for the things they didn't know about. OK...so it was 30 years or more ago...but I was still wrong. For Wendy, I'm sorry she's still suffering for something the public deemed as wrong. Sometimes I think people don't know how fortunate they really. Hang in there Wendy.

HYPOCRITES 08
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HYPOCRITES 08 07/21/08 - 07:26 am
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No BONE, if she had been

No BONE, if she had been BLACK idiots like you would be making comments like I guess her parents are low lifes too. Or, where is the Black community with all these people going around committing sexual offenses. My favorite one is, the apple does not fall too far from the tree. But, at least you and your kind does not disappoint me, you will make a racial debate out of brands of toothpaste.

JustaVoice
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JustaVoice 07/21/08 - 07:28 am
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Let this woman live in peace.

Let this woman live in peace.

Interested Citizen
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Interested Citizen 07/21/08 - 07:28 am
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We sure have a lot of judges

We sure have a lot of judges reading the news today. Wonder if the young man had to register as a sex offender.

PTHS2
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PTHS2 07/21/08 - 07:37 am
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Did the article mention if it

Did the article mention if it was a male she was experimenting with? Yeah, a cuple of teens trying to find out what feels good shouldn't doom the rest of anybody's life.

bone
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bone 07/21/08 - 07:45 am
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what kind is that, bone? is

what kind is that, bone? is it anything like saying "you people?"

THINKABOUTIT
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THINKABOUTIT 07/21/08 - 07:45 am
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this whole thing is

this whole thing is ridiculous oral sex 15 with a 17 year old cmon they ought to drop the sex charge and make the state pay for all her moves!!!!!!

nerthus
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nerthus 07/21/08 - 07:51 am
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The comments about weight

The comments about weight should tell the mentality of the people reading the paper. I wonder if those people writing those comments would like to be judged. Do they smoke, drink or do anything else that could be judged by someone.
The law needs to be changed. It is hard for me to believe that the facts of this case is what the law was written for. Two teens having sex come on now.

mommie2
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mommie2 07/21/08 - 07:52 am
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She's trying to abide by the

She's trying to abide by the law but it's not as if she is a dangerous criminal. This is just an embarassment to civil liberties.

jack
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jack 07/21/08 - 08:16 am
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It is attitudes like those I

It is attitudes like those I see here this morning that has eroded our morals as a nation and especially our teens who should be taught not to have sex until married. Today's inundation with sex and crime on TV, movies, music has been taught that illicit sex is OK. True, teens have raging hormones (sure did but the girls were taught to say NO and mena it), and still should be taught to control them and your attitudes teach them it's OK just becaue they are teens. A 15 year old is still a child-a 17 year old is only one year from being a voting, draft registered adult (in case of males) either going to college or working for aliving. Child molestation at any age is and should be against the law and those who break it and are caught be punished in accordance with law as with any other crime. This woman is no exception.

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