Yes - ABCNews.com actually did title its article "Sex Offender Faces Life in Prison for Being Homeless," giving a convicted sex offender the status of heroic martyr for facing a potenital life sentence under Georgia's sex offender registry laws.
Larry W. Moore, Jr. was convicted of the felony sex offense known as "indecent liberty with a child" in North Carolina in 1994. Moore later moved to Georgia, where he came within the jurisdiction of Georgia's sex offender registry laws. Moore failed to properly register and was convicted for a first violation in 2005. Moore has now been convicted of a second violation, and faces a penalty of life in prison under the Georgia statutes.
Despite being a felony sex offender and two-time registry violator, the ABCNews.com article paints Moore as a victim because he was allegedly homeless at the time of his arrest. According to the article, Moore's homelessness was the product of Georgia's strict residency restrictions.
Georgia's new sex offender law -- one of the nation's toughest to date -- prohibits offenders from living and working within 1,000 feet of not just schools and day care centers, but also churches, public or community swimming pools, public or private parks, bus stops and any other places "where minors congregate."
While many states have registry requirements, Georgia's 2006 sex offender law added school bus stops and churches to the list of places 1,000 feet from which registered sex offenders couldn't live or work, leaving them with only a handful of hotels and shelters to choose from, policy experts said. And although there is a court-ordered hold on the bus stop limitation, the church provision is in place.
The article continues by citing to unnamed critics who "say the law places people in a catch-22 by rendering nearly the entire state unlivable for sex offenders, while at the same time insisting that they register a permanent address."
Under these punitive conditions, the ABCNews.com columnist concludes that "[a] convicted sex offender in Georgia was pulled off the street and now faces life in prison -- not for committing a crime -- but because he was homeless."
The entire discussion is preposterous. First of all, the author's gratuitous statement that Moore faces life in prison "for being homeless" ignores his conviction for the hideous crime of "indecent liberty with a child." Moore's criminal jeopardy stems from his felony criminal act upon a child - not his "homelessness."
And while is undisputed that convicted sex offenders have restricted residency in Georgia (and particularly in some metropolitan areas), it is appalling to argue that "nearly the entire state [is] unlivable for sex offenders." Are there no rural areas in Georgia ?
By virtue of his conviction in the State of North Carolina, Moore was presumably already subject to reporting requirements in that state. Moore voluntarily moved the Georgia, where he subjected himself to the more stringent laws. And any argument that he was ignorant of the Georgia statutes (not a valid legal excuse anyway) went out the window when he was convicted of a first violation.
While the ABCNews.com article is heavy on rhetoric, it is also short on facts. As to Moore's specific violation, the article only states that "an Augusta investigator found out that [Moore] registered a false address; he actually lived on the street." But where was Moore living when he was properly registered ? And did he do something to lose that residence ? Was he really "living on the streets" or merely moving from place-to-place without making the proper reporting ? It is easy to imagine how the facts might not support the author's overall theme.
The ABCNews.com article also stated in conspicuously vague terms that "[a] conviction for the second violation occurred last week." In actuality, Moore presented his "homelessness" defense to a jury, and the jury rejected it finding Moore guilty.
The article, however, goes far beyond Moore's case in a broad attack upon Georgia's sex offender statutes.
In an effort to frame the Georgia law as bigotry, the article cites to elderly, ill, and disabled people who have supposedly been displaced.
Last fall, the Southern Center for Human Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union asked a court to prevent nine elderly and severely disabled offenders who lived within 1,000 feet of a church from being evicted.
The SCHR said that among those who faced eviction were residents of nursing homes, persons with Alzheimer's disease, and a resident of a hospice care facility who was told he had six months to live, according to court documents. They argued that the law incorrectly makes no exception for those who "by virtue of their advanced age and/or physical conditions & are not a danger to anyone." The case is pending.
Of course any media implication of bigotry must be accompanied by a citation to the Republican who made it all possible:
In an interview with the L.A. Times, the Georgia law's Republican sponsor Rep. Jerry Keen acknowledged the law would be "an inconvenience" for "some folks" who would have to move. "But," he said, "if you weigh that argument against the overall impact, which is the safety of children, most folks would agree this is a good thing."
The article also criticizes the Georgia law for creating "clusters" of sex offenders.
And paradoxically, [Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Sheriff Don] Zeller said, the new restrictions are also creating sex offender "clusters'' -- like the Ced-Rel Motel in Lynn County, where more than two dozen sex offenders lived at one time.
But wait - couldn't you argue that it's a good thing to have the sex offenders in clusters where they can be more easily monitored ?
Finally (and amusingly), the article is punctuated by an absurd, double-negative assertion that can neither be proved nor disproved. What's even better, the author liked the quote so much that she cited to it twice and attributed it to two different people !
Early in the article:
Studies also show that sex offenders have a lower recidivism rate than other types of criminals. Jill Levenson, a professor of human services at Lynn University in Florida, told ABC Law & Justice Unit that there is not one case in the entire United States where a child or adult was not assaulted because of residency restrictions and called these laws "one of the largest wastes of resources and false sense of security things we've done yet."
But at the end of the article:
"There's not one case in the entire U.S. where a child or adult was not assaulted because of residency restrictions -- it's one of the largest wastes of resources and false sense of security things we've done yet," [Nancy Sabin, executive director of the Jacob Wetterling Foundation] said.
This claim takes the prize. The effectiveness of the Georgia statutes is measured by sexual assaults which have been avoided, and of course, there is no evidence of events that did not occur. Or in other words - you can not prove a negative. But the author here is not above semantic games to advance her viewpoint.