You are here

Unofficial Opinion 97-23

Unofficial Opinion 97-23

August 11, 1997
To: 

County Attorney
Gwinnett County

Re: 

Under O.C.G.A. § 42-1-12, as effective July 1, 1997, the sheriff must release relevant information relating to sexually violent predators and is given the authority to determine what information and in what manner such information will be released.

This is in response to your request for an opinion regarding the method that a sheriff chooses to release information under the sexual offender registration program as well as the kind of information about the sexual offender which may be released as part of any publication. Directly relevant are the provisions found at O.C.G.A. † 42-1-12(i). Certain portions of this specific Code Section were amended in the 1997 General Assembly. Prior to the 1997 legislative enactment the Code Section provided:

The information collected under the state registration program shall be treated as private data except that:

(1) Such information may be disclosed to law enforcement agencies for law enforcement purposes;

(2) Such information may be disclosed to government agencies conducting confidential background checks;

(3) The Georgia Bureau of Investigation or any sheriff maintaining records required under this Code section is authorized to release relevant information collected under this Code section that is necessary to protect the public concerning a specific person required to register under this Code section, except that the identity of a victim of an offense that requires registration under this Code section shall not be released.

In 1997, the provisions of O.C.G.A. † 42-1-12(i)(3) were notably amended to provide the following:

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation or any sheriff maintaining records required under this Code section shall release relevant information collected under this Code section that is necessary to protect the public concerning those persons required to register under this Code section, except that the identity of a victim of an offense that requires registration under this Code section shall not be released. In addition to any other notice that may be necessary to protect the public, nothing herein shall prevent any sheriff from posting this information in any public building.

(Emphasis added.)

The underlined portions of the above cited amendment are the significant changes made by the 1997 General Assembly and reflect the legislative intent that otherwise private data under the state registration program is not private for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation or the sheriff who has the registration records. The inclusion of the words shall release indicates that the sheriff is required to release relevant information. The condition upon which release is mandated is that the sheriff shall determine what information is relevant in order to protect the public concerning "those persons who register." It is noteworthy that this amended Code Section

refers to "those persons" in the plural as opposed to a specific finding about "a specific person" which was the pre-1997 language.

In summary, the sheriff is now required to determine what information is relevant and necessary in protecting the public concerning persons listed on the sex offender register. It is for the sheriff to determine the relevancy of each item of identifying information.

Likewise, it is for the sheriff to determine what type of notification is necessary in any particular community to protect the public concerning persons required to register. Thus, under this statute, the sheriff may post relevant information in any public building in Gwinnett County and may also use any other means including publication on the Internet, newspaper, or door to door notification. The mandates of the statute impliedly require that the sheriff make a determination as to the reason for the release of the kind of information that is released as well as for the method of release of information. These decisions may vary, depending on the situation.

In conclusion, the sheriff must release information which the sheriff determines to be relevant in protecting the public concerning sexual offender registrants. In addition, the sheriff must determine the method by which this information is to be made available to the public, not necessarily limited to posting the relevant information in any public building.

Prepared by:

CAROL A. CALLAWAY
Senior Assistant Attorney General