Georgia Supreme Court Blog

March 17, 2010

Court Majority: Sex Offender Registration Not Punishment, May be Applied to Non-Sexual Offense Against Minor

Filed under: Carol Hunstein, criminal law, Harold Melton, sex offenders — bce30064 @ 5:32 pm

In a 5-to-2 vote, the Supreme Court of Georgia has ruled against a man convicted of false imprisonment of a minor and upheld the state’s sex offender registration law as constitutional.

When Jake Rainer was 18, he and three others planned to rob a 17-year-old girl after arranging to meet her to buy some drugs. When she got into their car to complete the transaction, they drove away. They stopped twice, trying to steal her purse and push her out of the car. Eventually they succeeded. Witness identifications later led to the arrest of the four men.

In 2001, Rainer pleaded guilty in Fulton County to false imprisonment and robbery and was sentenced to 10 years, with five in prison and the rest on probation. After serving a year on probation, he learned for the first time he was required to register as a sex offender. See Rainer’s Online Sex Offender Profile. Rainer challenged the law’s application to his case because the crime he was convicted of did not involve any sexual activity. The State filed a motion to dismiss his constitutional challenge, and the trial court granted it, finding that the registration statute – Official Code of Georgia 42-1-12 – is constitutional. Rainer then appealed to the state Supreme Court, arguing that the requirement he register as a sex offender constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment” and violates his constitutional right to due process because it is overly inclusive.

But in today’s opinion, written by Justice Harold Melton (data), the majority states that Georgia’s sex offender registration requirements “are regulatory, and not punitive, in nature.”

“Specifically, because the registration requirements themselves do not constitute punishment, it is of no consequence whether or not one has committed an offense that is … sexual in nature before being required to register.” The law defines a sexual offender as anyone “[w]ho has been convicted of a criminal offense against a victim who is a minor or any dangerous sexual offense.”

“Under the statute, one only needs to have committed a … criminal offense against a victim who is a minor … in order to meet the statutory definition of … sexual offender for purposes of registration,” the majority states. The law is not overly inclusive, the majority finds. Rather, it “advances the State’s legitimate goal of informing the public for purposes of protecting children from those who would harm them.”

But in her dissent, Chief Justice Carol Hunstein (data) disagrees, finding the statute “unconstitutionally over-inclusive.”

“[T]he statutory scheme creating the sex offender registry seeks to protect children not from all harm, but from harm by those who have committed certain designated offenses,” the dissent says. “[A]lthough a sexual offense may occur during a kidnapping or a false imprisonment, such conduct would clearly be covered by other provisions of the statute. Rainer should not be characterized as a sex offender, she states in the dissent. “I am a parent. I am a grandparent. I care about the children of this state. But I am also obligated to care about the constitutional rights of all those affected by its laws.” Justice Robert Benham joins in the dissent.

Case Details:
Attorney for Appellant (Rainer): Ann Marie Fitz
Attorneys for Appellee (State): Thurbert Baker, Attorney General, Joseph Drolet, Sr., Asst. A.G., Paige Elizabeth Boorman, Asst. A.G.
Summary by Georgia Supreme Court Public Information Office

More Information:

  • Georgia Supreme Court Opinions Database: Rainer v. The State (S09A1900)
  • Georgia Criminal Law Information: From the Center for Legal Solutions

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