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Ga. Court Examines Banishment Policy

  Political and Legal  -   POSTED: 2008/01/08 18:54

An unusual question is before the Georgia Supreme Court: Should banishment of criminals be banned?

Though Georgia's judges are technically outlawed from banishing offenders, some have skirted the rule by restricting them from all but one of the state's 159 counties. Now, one convict is challenging the practice, claiming it is unconstitutional.

"It's a throwback to the dark ages," McNeill Stokes, the defense attorney who argued the case Monday, said in an interview. "The whole point behind this is zealous prosecutors wanting to get rid of problems in their counties."

State attorneys contend the orders are a way to rid criminals from populous areas and protect victims from repeat offenses. But some defense attorneys see them as thinly disguised efforts to evade a Georgia constitutional provision that explicitly forbids courts from "banishment beyond the limits of the state."

The case revolves around Gregory Mac Terry, who pleaded guilty to assault and stalking charges. According to court documents, he violated a restraining order by sneaking into his estranged wife's home, forced her into his car and then threatened her with scissors.

He was sentenced to 20 years in prison and 10 more years on probation, and a judge added a condition that he be banned from all Georgia's counties except Toombs County in southeast Georgia. His attorney says that condition kept him in prison longer, because he couldn't complete a work-release program in another county.

State attorney Paula Smith Sr. said the ban is reasonable, because Terry wrote a letter saying he wouldn't forget his wife when he was released.

"What we're losing sight of here is the purpose, and that was to help Mr. Terry's wife from his documented obsession of her," Smith said, adding that the court was "trying to safeguard this woman."

The banished rarely move to the remote counties where they are sent, and lawyers say some flee the state altogether. DeKalb County alone has banished dozens of offenders to Echols County, which sits on the Florida border.

During arguments Monday, justices peppered attorneys with questions about how the policy works logistically.

For example, they asked, how would an offender even get to the county where he was supposed to live without passing through counties he was banned from?


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