Mandatory sentences: Georgia's Supreme Court will consider proportion.
By Bill Rankin
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 06/29/08
The judge had only one option when he sentenced Cedric Bradshaw: life in prison.
Bradshaw had not committed murder, rape or armed robbery. His offense was failing to properly register as a convicted sex offender for a second time —- even though he had repeatedly tried to follow the law.
"Mr. Bradshaw, the court could say a lot of things about the law, the wisdom or not of it," Bulloch County Superior Court Judge F. Gates Peed said as he sentenced the 25-year-old Statesboro man on Dec. 20, 2007. But the law calls for a mandatory life sentence, and that's what Bradshaw got.
On Monday, the state's highest court will consider whether the law is unconstitutional on grounds it is cruel and unusual punishment.
No other state calls for a life sentence for failing to register as a sex offender the second time, and even rape and armed robbery convictions in Georgia do not carry mandatory life terms, said Bradshaw's lawyer, Robert L. Persse, the circuit public defender in Statesboro.
"The punishment for a second violation is grossly disproportionate to the offense," Persse said. "That is particularly true when this is essentially a paperwork offense not accompanied by aggravating circumstances like violence, sexual deviance or being out in a schoolyard hunting for children."
The Bulloch DA's office is urging the state Supreme Court to uphold the life term.
"The courts look at the Legislature's intent in determining the best evidence for the appropriateness of the sentence," Assistant District Attorney W. Scott Brannen said. "When they increase it [to a life term], that too is evidence of the intent and the will of the people."
Sen. President pro tem Eric Johnson (R-Savannah) said the law is clear.
"I wish it hadn't happened, but there are consequences for people's actions," said Johnson, a chief sponsor of the offender law. "What would have happened if he had given the wrong address and had lived in a place and was harming a child next door? The law is trying to protect children. Justice has to be blind to motive."
He said Bradshaw had committed "serial stupidity."
There is no question Bradshaw committed a colossal blunder. The law, one of the toughest in the nation, makes it clear that failure to properly register as a sex offender the second time brings a mandatory life sentence.
Bradshaw's legal problems started when, shortly after turning 19, he pleaded guilty to enticing a child for indecent purposes. In November 2001, he was sentenced to serve six to eight months in a detention center and five years probation.
But before reporting to the center, Bradshaw was charged with statutory rape for having sex with a 15-year-old girl. He pleaded guilty to that and was sentenced to five years in prison.
After being granted parole in December 2006, Bradshaw gave an invalid address when registering as a sex offender, the first strike against him. In June 2007, he pleaded guilty to the offense and was sentenced to time served —- little more than six months in jail.
After his release, Bradshaw moved in with his sister and registered as a sex offender, listing her address. But deputies soon made him leave because the home was too close to a recreation center.
Bradshaw then moved in with his aunt and correctly put her address on the registry. This time he was told to leave because the home was within 1,000 feet of the First Baptist Church.
Bradshaw began to wonder if he could find a place to live and not be in violation of Georgia's sex-offender registry law, according to court records. But a relative hooked him up with Edgar Moore, a family friend, who said Bradshaw could have the spare bedroom in his single-wide trailer.
Bradshaw registered once more at the Sheriff's Office, but provided the wrong address, inadvertently transposing two of the street numbers.
A sheriff's captain, checking to verify Bradshaw's address, eventually found Moore at his trailer. Moore confirmed that he had invited Bradshaw to live in the spare bedroom. But he said Bradshaw had yet to move in.
Authorities obtained a warrant for Bradshaw's arrest because he had failed to move into the address within the 72 hours required by law.
Bradshaw turned himself in at the Bulloch County jail, where he made another mistake: he lied, saying he had been living in Moore's trailer.
A grand jury indicted Bradshaw for failure to register the second time. Bradshaw waived his right to a jury and, during a one-day trial last December, let Judge Peed decide his fate.
At trial, Bradshaw testified that he had tried to get in touch with Moore. He said he left him messages on his cellphone and dropped by, but Moore was not home. In the meantime, Bradshaw said, he was staying with his girlfriend.
Persse, the public defender, argued that Bradshaw had tried to comply with the law. "If anything, the man tried to do what he was supposed to do, and the statute and its rigid requirements got in his way," he told the judge.
But Brannen, the prosecutor, said the law is on the books and "it's not my place or the court's place to decide what we like and don't like and what we want to enforce or not enforce."
Bradshaw, Brannen said, broke the law by failing to give a valid address within the 72-hour reporting deadline. "There are no exceptions in the law," he said.
Even though he called into question the wisdom of the law, Peed agreed and sentenced Bradshaw to life in prison.
"I'll leave it to the super Legislature, the Supreme Court, to decide the issues of constitutionality," he said.
CRIMES AND PUNISHMENTS
Among the crimes in Georgia where a life sentence may be imposed:
>Aggravated child molestation
>Aggravated sexual battery
>Child molestation (second offense)
>Sale of controlled substance (second offense)
Among the crimes in Georgia where a life sentence must be imposed:
>Failure to register as a sex offender (second offense)
>Hijacking motor vehicle (second offense)
>Kidnapping with bodily injury
>Kidnapping for ransom
Source: Georgia criminal code