Sex offender law mindlessly harsh

One-size-fits-all laws don't fit all cases, and this is one of them

Should the law punish a motorist who is ticketed for a broken tail light as harshly as it punishes a drunken driver with multiple offenses who's found guilty of causing a fatal crash?
Of course not. Traffic law violations, like other crimes, are punished according to the seriousness of the offense. But that's not necessarily true when it comes to Georgia's sex offender law. Just ask Wendy Whitaker of Harlem.

More than 10 years ago, when she was a 17-year-old high school student, she engaged in consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old male classmate. In 1997 she pleaded guilty to sodomy and was put on five years' probation.

Since then Whitaker has gotten married and been free of any hint of misconduct. Yet she still must register each year as a sex offender. Her photo appears on the sex offender Web site and she is subject to a Georgia law that prohibits convicted sex predators from living within 1,000 feet of places where children gather, such as schools, parks and day care centers.

Her Harlem home is within 1,000 feet of a day care center, which as of now means she'll have to leave that home this week. Federal Judge Clarence Cooper denied Whitaker's motion last week to halt enforcement of that part of the state law that would force her out.

Before she and her husband moved into their Harlem home a few years ago, the couple had to move several times because of the sex offender law. It's very difficult to find a place to live that's not within 1,000 feet of where children gather, a point Whitaker's lawyer made to the federal judge, but to no avail.

The main point ought to be that the sex registry law shouldn't apply to Whitaker. She's clearly not a pedophile who preys on teenagers, and it's a travesty of justice that she's being treated like one.

Adding to Whitaker's pain is that the law she was sentenced under was repealed by the legislature shortly after her guilty plea and was replaced by a law that is much lighter on teenagers having sex. Had she been sentenced under the new law, she would not have to register as a sex offender or move out of her home.

Clearly, the toughest provisions of Georgia's sex offender law should not apply to persons like Wendy Whitaker. Distinctions must be made between nonviolent sex offenders -- particularly those with no record of repeat offenses -- and potentially dangerous predators.

One-size-fits-all justice does not work in sex predator cases any more than it would in traffic cases. We want strong laws against sex predators, but not at the exclusion of common sense. Judges must have the authority to make distinctions between the severity of sexual offenses -- and impose punishment accordingly.

Georgia's children won't be any safer because Wendy Whitaker is forced out of her home. [Ed: I would add to this that we must begin talking about SPECIFIC ACTS that were alleged to have been committed. Sorry folks, but you're going to have to get over your squeamishness in discussing specific sex acts if you're going to take it upon yourselves to judge sex offenders. You want to understand risks posed by individuals? Learn what the specifics and the circumstances are, first. This also requires viewing assertions by District Attorneys with a great deal of skepticism.]

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