A convicted sex offender in Georgia was pulled off the street and now faces life in prison -- not for committing a crime -- but because he was homeless.
Larry W. Moore Jr., who was convicted of a felony in North Carolina in 1994 for indecent liberty with a child and a sex offender registry violation in Georgia in 2005, could receive a life sentence after violating the state's registry law a second time.
A conviction for the second violation occurred last week, after an Augusta investigator found out that he registered a false address; he actually lived on the street. Under Georgia's new law, this second violation triggers an automatic life sentence.
Georgia's new sex offender law -- one of the nation's toughest to date -- prohibits offenders from living and working within 1,000 feet of not just schools and day care centers, but also churches, public or community swimming pools, public or private parks, bus stops and any other places "where minors congregate."
While many states have registry requirements, Georgia's 2006 sex offender law added school bus stops and churches to the list of places 1,000 feet from which registered sex offenders couldn't live or work, leaving them with only a handful of hotels and shelters to choose from, policy experts said. And although there is a court-ordered hold on the bus stop limitation, the church provision is in place.
Last fall, the Southern Center for Human Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union asked a court to prevent nine elderly and severely disabled offenders who lived within 1,000 feet of a church from being evicted.
The SCHR said that among those who faced eviction were residents of nursing homes, persons with Alzheimer's disease, and a resident of a hospice care facility who was told he had six months to live, according to court documents. They argued that the law incorrectly makes no exception for those who "by virtue of their advanced age and/or physical conditions…are not a danger to anyone." The case is pending.
Among critics of the Georgia law are law enforcement officials within the state, who say the law creates clusters of sex offenders and forces them underground where police can lose track of them completely. In Augusta, only one investigator is keeping track of more than 200 sex offenders, according to Sgt. Ray Hardin, an investigator at the Richmond County Sheriff's department. Hardin said that his office is overwhelmed by the constant flow of paperwork and the same sex offenders who come in "three times a week telling us where they moved to next."
Studies also show that sex offenders have a lower recidivism rate than other types of criminals. Jill Levenson, a professor of human services at Lynn University in Florida, told ABC Law & Justice Unit that there is not one case in the entire United States where a child or adult was not assaulted because of residency restrictions and called these laws "one of the largest wastes of resources and false sense of security things we've done yet."
Policy critics also argue that the wave of recent sex offender legislation gives neither hardship exemptions based on illness or disability, nor laxer sentences for seemingly less serious crimes, like a 17-year-old having sex with a 15-year-old. They argue that the legislation is based on reactionary politics and myths about sex offenders that are not supported by valid research or evidence.