updated 6/30/2008 8:50:51 PM ET 2008-07-01T00:50:51

Faced with the question of whether banishment for criminals in Georgia should be banned, the state's top court answered Monday with its own caveat: It depends on how far the ban extends.

The Georgia Supreme Court acknowledged with its 6-1 decision that banishing convicted criminals from the state is illegal, but it upheld a tactic by judges who ban them from living in all but one of Georgia's 159 counties.

That's what happened to Gregory Mac Terry, who was restricted from living everywhere in Georgia except rural Toombs County after he pleaded guilty in 1995 to charges he assaulted and stalked his estranged wife.

Defense attorneys call the strategy "de facto" banishment. Prosecutors say the orders are a way to rid criminals from populated areas and protect victims from repeat offenses. In Terry's case, they said, the restrictions are needed to protect his wife.

Writing for the majority, Justice Harris Hines said judges can legally skirt the ban on banishment when they restrict convicts like Terry from all but one county.

"It was Terry whose movements had to be curtailed, not hers, and a scheme that allowed her to move freely about most of the state without fear of Terry was appropriate," the opinion read.

Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears said the judge's decision to allow Terry in Toombs County when he is released was "an act of grace and mercy."

The lone dissenter, Justice Robert Benham, said Terry will be forced to leave the state because he has no ties to Toombs County, which has 27,000 people in the southeastern part of the state. He concluded that the sentence "in fact results in de facto banishment from our state which is unconstitutional."

Terry was sentenced to 20 years in prison and 10 more years on probation after he violated a restraining order by sneaking into his estranged wife's home, then forced her into his car and threatened her with scissors.

During his sentencing, a judge added a condition that he be banned from all of Georgia except Toombs County when he was released on probation or parole.

The court's decision upheld the banishment sentence while Terry is on probation, but said only the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles can set conditions for parole.

Defense attorney McNeill Stokes said the banishment kept Terry in prison longer because he couldn't complete a work-release program in another county. Stokes called the strategy a "throwback to the dark ages."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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