The Georgia Supreme Court's 6-1 decision threw out the life sentence given to Cedric Bradshaw, a 25-year-old who was arrested for failing to register as an offender after he said he spent weeks trying to find a place that didn't violate the law's residential restrictions.
It's the latest ruling that chips away at the law, which 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.
But critics say the law treats some offenders too harshly and warn it could force others to abscond from the registry.
Mr. Bradshaw's challenge focused on a provision in the law that required a life sentence for sex offenders who failed twice to register as an offender. It applies to all sex offenders, from child predators to those convicted of statutory rape.
Mr. Bradshaw, who is on the registry after he was convicted of statutory rape, was arrested after police discovered he was living with a girlfriend when he had registered at a family friend's address.
Because it was the second time he failed to register as a sex offender in Georgia, he was sentenced to the only punishment allowed by law: life in prison.
Prosecutors said they were following the letter of the law -- and by extension, the will of the public. Mr. Bradshaw's lawyers called the punishment "grossly disproportionate" because the state is the only one that imposes a life sentence for failing to register.
In its ruling, the court concluded that the penalty is "so harsh in comparison to the crime for which it was imposed that it is unconstitutional."
It also noted that more violent crimes, such as voluntary manslaughter and aggravated assault, call for lesser punishments than life in prison.
The decision did, however, uphold Mr. Bradshaw's conviction for failing to register a second time and sent his case back to the trial court for a new sentence.