ALBANY — While addressing concerns from the public on a recent ruling by the Georgia Supreme Court, Dougherty County Sheriff Kevin Sproul and officers with the department expressed concerns of their own about the state’s House Bill 324 that has come to be known as Georgia’s Hope Act.
An opinion released on Monday regarding Park v. The State by the Georgia Supreme Court said it affirmed in part and reversed in part the case of Joseph Park, who had been convicted in metro Atlanta of child molestation and sexual exploitation. Park requested an interlocutory appeal to address the constitutionality of OCGA § 42-1-14, which requires, among other things, that a person who is classified as a sexually dangerous predator — but who is no longer in custody or on probation or parole — wear and pay for an electronic monitoring device linked to a global positioning satellite system, or GPS monitoring device, allowing the state to monitor that individual’s location “for the remainder of his or her natural life.”
The high court agreed that it is unconstitutional on its face, as it presented an invasion of privacy issue for someone who has completed his sentence.
“For the reasons that follow, we conclude that OCGA § 42-1-14 (e), on its face, authorizes a patently unreasonable search that runs afoul of the protections afforded by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and, as a result, subsection (e) of the statute is unconstitutional to the extent that it does so,” the opinion, written by Chief Justice Harold D. Melton and joined by Presiding Justice David E. Nahmias along with Justices Robert Benham, Keith R. Blackwell, Michael P. Boggs, Nels S.D. Peterson, Charles J. Bethel, John J. Ellington and Augusta Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Wade Padgett, said.
Justice Sarah H. Warren was disqualified in the decision.
Park contended that OCGA § 42-1-14 (e) was unconstitutional because it authorizes an unreasonable lifelong warrantless search of sex offenders who are classified as sexually dangerous predators by requiring such offenders to wear and be monitored at all times through a GPS monitoring device. The high court found “that the specific search created by OCGA § 42-1-14 (e) cannot stand under the Fourth Amendment, at least with respect to individuals who have completed their criminal sentences.”
The state contended that a lifelong GPS search of an individual classified as a sexually dangerous predator is reasonable because, like a person who is on probation or parole, a sexually dangerous predator has a diminished expectation of privacy with respect to Fourth Amendment searches.
“It cannot be said that an individual who has completed the entirety of his or her criminal sentence, including his or her parole and/or probation requirements, would have the same diminished privacy expectations as an individual who is still serving his or her sentence,” the opinion said.
Dougherty County Sheriff Kevin Sproul said he and his office take a view similar to that of the state, so they plan to see if changes can be made.
“We will work with the General Assembly in fixing this law, or amending it,” Sproul said.
In the meantime, Sproul said the three individuals in Dougherty County impacted by this decision have had their ankle monitors removed, although they are still required to do their annual visits to re-register as sex offenders and deputies will still be doing check-ins. The offenders will also be required to notify law enforcement if they plan to move or if they plan to leave Georgia for more than 72 hours.
“We will be assessing what we need to do as we move forward,” Sproul said.
In the meantime, HB 324 has passed the Georgia House of Representatives and is on its way to crossing over into the state Senate. If approved, Georgia would join 31 states that already allow some form of marijuana cultivation so that TCH could be used for medical purposes.
The measure was introduced to reduce the adverse effects of seizure disorders in children. Sproul said law enforcement agencies were earlier approached about supporting the bill, and that the thought of adding more medical uses have since been suggested. He and Capt. Craig Dodd said that, while nobody opposes marijuana for medical use, their concerns have grown about the snowball impacts such a law could have — specifically if the drug were to become legal in Georgia for non-medical use.
Some of these impacts they have learned from their counterparts in California and Colorado, who they said have seen dramatic increases in homelessness, car accidents and people walking into the street disoriented.
“We have looked at what other states have gone through with this, and recreational marijuana use is (legal in those states),” Sproul said. “We are against that. We may be a year or two away from that (if HB 324 passes). I don’t want to see this happen.
“We believe this is the last step before it gets legalized (for social use).”
Dodd said a big concern is the strength of the drug compared to what it was three decades ago.
“THC and marijuana grown today is 20 times stronger than what it was 20-30 years ago,” he said. “People don’t realize how strong it is now.”
The sheriff’s office said it will be contacting Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, D-Dawson, to express their concerns. For those who may be upset with the current stance of the Dougherty sheriff’s office, Sproul said to consider the risks.
“Really research this,” he said. “Research marijuana and research the dangers. (Look at) what it is doing to your nieces and nephews.”