In Chestnut v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the defendant’s conviction for failure to register as a sex offender holding that since the defendant was homeless, the State failed to prove that he had an address that he failed to register.
The record showed that the defendant was a registered sex offender, having been convicted of incest for his relationship with his brother’s adopted adult daughter. When he was released from prison, he moved into another brother’s apartment and listed that apartment’s address with the sex offender registry. When a minor niece moved into that apartment, the defendant moved out so as not to violate his probation. Having nowhere else to go, the defendant became homeless.
At the time of the defendant’s conviction, the statute provided that individuals convicted of a sex offense must register with the Sheriff of the county where they reside and provide certain information, including a “residence address.” The statute defined address as “the street or route address of the sexual offender’s residence.” It also stated that for the purposes of that section, homeless “does not constitute an address.”
The statute did not give any indication of what a homeless person who does not have a residence address needed to do in order to comply with the statute. In Santos v. State, the Georgia Supreme Court found that the provision was unconstitutionally vague as applied to homeless offenders because it did not give them fair notice as to how to comply with the statute. As a result, the statute was since amended to provide that whenever a homeless sex offender changes his “sleeping location” he has 72 hours to tell the Sheriff in person where he’s sleeping.
The Court held that in order to prove that Chestnut had violated the old statute, the State had the burden to prove that he had a new residence address that he could have provided to the Sheriff’s Office. They noted that the State has the burden of proof in criminal proceedings, and thus the defendant did not have to prove that he did not have an applicable address.
The Court noted that during the time period in question, the defendant slept in multiple non-residential places. The State did not introduce evidence that any of those places had a street or route address that the defendant could have provided to the Sheriff’s Office. Thus, the State failed to meet its burden of proof and, as a result, the Court of Appeals reversed the defendant’s conviction.
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