Harlem woman asks court to halt her eviction for 1996 sex offense

The Harlem woman facing a Thanksgiving Day eviction from her home because of the sex offender registry requirements filed suit this morning in Columbia County Superior Court.

Attorneys from the Southern Center for Human Rights seek an injunction on behalf of Wendy Whitaker who faces eviction from her home because she resides within 1,000 feet of a child care center and church.

Mrs. Whitaker is on the sex offender registry because in 1996, when she was a 17-year-old high school student, she engaged in a consensual sex act with a student who was three weeks shy of his 16th birthday, according to the lawsuit.

The General Assembly created the punitive sex offender registry requirements in 2006. Although courts and the legislators have tamed some of the provisions, Mrs. Whitaker's case falls through the safety net.

Mrs. Whitaker had moved from her home but she returned this year after the law allowed sex offenders who own their homes to remain.

But the Columbia County Sheriff's Office ordered her to leave the home because it is within 1,000 feet of a church and Mrs. Whitaker's name is not on the deed. It is titled in her husband's name, according to the lawsuit.

Mrs. Whitaker had sought relief from the federal court but earlier this month the U.S. District Court in Atlanta rejected her plea.

Two years ago a federal judge ruled the provision that sought to keep sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school bus stop was unconstitutional. Plaintiffs convinced the judge that it was impossible to find a home that wasn't within 1,000 feet of a school bus stop.

But this month a federal judge ruled that the current provisions restricting a sex offender's home isn't too restrictive, according to earlier reports.

Today Mrs. Whitaker's supporters filed the lawsuit in a state court, basing their arguments on the Georgia constitution.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226

or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.

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