The Georgia Supreme Court has ruled that a mandatory life sentence given to a sex offender two twice failing to register was unconstitutional. The Court ruled that the sentence violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. You can view the opinion here. From The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
The Georgia Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down as unconstitutional a mandatory life sentence given to a Bulloch County sex offender convicted of failing to register for a second time.
In a 6-1 decision, written by Justice Robert Benham, the court said the life sentence given to Cedric Bradshaw violates the Eighth Amendment’s guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment.
“We conclude the imposition of a sentence of life imprisonment is so harsh in comparison to the crime for which it was imposed that it is unconstitutional,” Benham wrote.
Georgia’s sex-offender law is the only one in the country that mandates a life sentence for an offender who fails to register at the local sheriff’s office a second time.
After turning 19, Bradshaw pleaded guilty to enticing a child for indecent purposes. In November 2001, he was sentenced to serve up to eight months in a detention center and five years’ probation.
But before reporting to the detention center, Bradshaw was charged with statutory rape for having sex with a 15-year-old girl. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years in prison.
After his release, Bradshaw gave an invalid address on the local sex-offender registry — his first offense. He was sentenced to time served, six months in jail.
He then registered again as a sex offender, giving a correct address and moving in with his sister. But he was forced to move because her home was too close to a recreation center. He then registered again, moving in with his aunt, but had to move once more because her home was within 1,000 feet of a church.
Bradshaw then registered a family friend’s home but gave an incorrect address and never moved in. Last December, he was convicted and given the mandatory life sentence.
“The Supreme Court did exactly the right thing,” Bradshaw’s lawyer, Robert Persse, the circuit public defender in Statesboro, said. “The state’s penalty provision was excessive and clearly disproportionate to the offense in question.”
The court’s decision upheld Bradshaw’s conviction for failing to register a second time and sent his case back to the trial court for re-sentencing.
Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears, in a concurring opinion, said life sentences “should be reserved for society’s most serious criminal offenders … Bradshaw’s failure to register as a sex offender, when his underlying crime only landed him in jail for five years, is not the kind of crime a civilized society ought to require him to pay for with his life.”
Justice George Carley issued the lone dissent, calling the majority’s decision a “monumental abuse of this court’s authority to determine the constitutionality of legislation.”
I think the majority is exactly right on this one. While Cruel and Unusual Punishment challenges are rarely successful in non-death cases (they are even rarely successful in death cases), failing to comply with an administrative regulation for registration twice cannot morally support a life sentence. If the legislatures of the country believe that sex offenders are so dangerous that a lifetime of incarceration is justified, they are free to increase the penalties for the underlying sex crimes (i.e. rape). However, insofar as registration is considered a non-punitive measure (thus justifying retroactive application), then failure to meet that regularatory burden cannot result in serious jail time if proportionality is to have any meaning.