Can someone be removed from the Georgia Sex Offender Registry?
Our firm has helped dozens of people get off the sex offender registry in Georgia. In 2010, the Georgia Legislature passed a new law allowing certain sex offenders to petition the courts for removal from the Georgia Sex Offender Registry. This was a very important development that has allowed numerous “low-risk” individuals convicted of sexual crimes to move on with their lives. To our knowledge, our firm has successfully obtained the removal of more individuals from the Georgia Sex Offender Registry than any other private law firm in Georgia.
Who has to register?
Registration as a sex offender is required by individuals convicted of a “dangerous sexual offense” or an offense that involved “a victim who is a minor.” These offenses include:
- Sexual Exploitation of a Minor
- Child Molestation
- Enticing a Minor
- Statutory Rape
- Aggravated Sexual Battery
- Child Pornography
- Other offenses that involve a minor, such as kidnapping or false imprisonment
Registration is required whether or not the offense and conviction occurred in Georgia, so long as the offender currently resides in the state and the out of state conviction fits under one of these definitions. There are also certain exceptions if the crime was a misdemeanor, such as a statutory rape between an 18 year old and a 15 year old.
Am I eligible to be removed from the registry?
There are several requirements and hurdles to get through before a sex offender can file a petition in court requesting their removal and release from the Georgia Sex Offender Registry.
First, the offender must have completed all required incarceration, parole, probation, and supervision as part of their sentence for the sex offense. Once the offender’s sentence is complete, they can seek removal from the registry: 1) if ten years have passed since the end of their sentence; or 2) if the offender has been designated as a Level I (low) risk assessment classification by the Sex Offender Registration and Review Board (“SORRB”).
In addition to the requirement that an offender complete his sentence, there are six other factors that determine an offender’s eligibility.
- The offender must not have any prior convictions for sex crimes or crimes against minors
- The offender did not use a deadly weapon likely to cause serious harm during their sex offense
- The offender did not transport the victim during the offense
- The offender did not physically restrain the victim during the offense
- The offender did not intentionally cause the victim physical harm
- There is no evidence of similar transactions, such as uncharged sexual offenses
If an offender is eligible, they must then file a petition for release in the Superior Court of the county where the individual was convicted or, if the offender is from out of state, the county where the individual lives. Copies must be served on the district attorney and sheriff of that county and on the sheriff of the county where the individual lives.
Typically, a sex offender will not have a risk assessment classification unless he or she has a recent conviction date. If the petitioner needs to be classified to be eligible for removal, the judge assigned to hear the petition will order that the SORRB classify the individual. The SORRB will then have 90 days to classify the individual. If an offender is classified higher than Level I, the offender can appeal the SORRB’s classification.
If the SORRB classifies the individual as a Level I, or if ten years have elapsed since the offender completed their sentence, the case will proceed to a removal hearing where the judge must determine if the individual should be removed.
What happens at the removal hearing?
At the removal hearing, the judge will first determine if the individual is eligible to be removed under the factors discussed above.
The judge must then determine by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not) that the offender is not substantially likely to commit a dangerous sexual offense in the future. Different judges take different factors into consideration when making such a determination. Evidence of the original crime will of course be important, but the court will also examine the offender’s conduct in prison and on probation, parole, or supervised release, as well as all of his or her subsequent conduct. Judges also usually consider the length of time since conviction, general criminal history, compliance with the registry, employment status, and relationship status.
The offender can also present testimony from character witnesses who know the offender well and can testify that the offender does not present a risk to the community. The most compelling evidence is typically expert testimony from a psychologist or therapist who has treated and evaluated the individual.
If the court is satisfied that the offender does not pose a substantial risk of committing another sex offense, it may either completely remove the offender from the registry or lift only certain conditions of registration. The court can also grant the offender’s petition on a temporary or permanent basis. If the court grants the petition, the court will send copies of its order to all sheriffs and district attorneys who were originally served with the petition as well as to the Georgia Department of Corrections and Georgia Bureau of Investigation so that they can take the steps necessary to remove the offender from the registry.
It’s also important to know the limitations of this relief. For one, this process can only remove you from the Georgia Sex Offender Registry. Each state runs its own registry and has its own rules, so being removed in Georgia has no bearing on an offender’s status in another state. Offenders should also know that, if their petition for removal is denied, the offender may not file a new petition for at least two years after the denial.