Question of Banishment Goes to Georgia’s Supreme Court

The word “banishment” evokes images of ancient criminals fleeing their home kingdom, possibly for crimes committed against a tyrannical king. In reality, though, the practice of banishing convicted criminals is still an issue of debate today.

According to reports from the Associated Press, Georgia’s Supreme Court is trying to determine whether or not the practice of banishing convicted criminals to certain areas of the state is constitutional. In fact, Georgia’s Constitution expressly forbids “banishment beyond the limits of the state.”

But some judges have reportedly skirted that restriction by forbidding certain criminals to live in all but one of the state’s 159 counties. But the case of Gregory Mac Terry might make that practice illegal.

Sources indicate that Terry was convicted of stalking and assault charges against his ex-wife and sentenced to 20 years in jail followed by 10 years of probation. The judge who sentenced Terry evidently included living restrictions as part of his punishment – Terry was banished from everywhere in the state of Georgia except Toombs County.

But when Terry was eligible for release in 2007, he discovered that there was no work-release program in Toombs County. He was thus forced to spend more time behind bars, according to sources.

Opponents of banishment declare the practice is merely a way for prosecutors to keep criminals out of their jurisdictions. One criminal defense attorney has even been quoted as saying that banishment is a “throwback to the dark ages.”

But supporters of banishment reportedly insist that the measure protects victims by keeping criminals out of heavily populated areas. According to AP reports, a state attorney has insisted that banishment is a reasonable punishment in Terry’s case.

Apparently, Terry has written letters announcing that he will do whatever it takes to find his wife, and that he will never forget her. To those who favor Terry’s banishment, the punishment is simply a way of ensuring that his ex-wife doesn’t have to look over her shoulder her whole life.

Even when the circumstances of Terry’s case are considered, the argument for banishment is weakened by laws concerning banishment that were passed in 2006.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, criminals can be banished to an area no smaller than a judicial circuit, which usually includes a few counties, and work-release programs must be available where they’re permitted to live.

And then, of course, logistical concerns are raised: how can a criminal arrive at a central county, for instance, without traveling through counties from which he is banned? Plus, sources report, bans are difficult to enforce and often not followed by convicts.

All things considered, Georgia’s Supreme Court has a difficult question to decide in the coming weeks.