Monday, March 26, 2018

CSU QB isn't on SOR because he was convicted as a minor

This article discusses whether registered persons deserve the right for second chances. Derek Logue of OnceFallen.com was also cited in this story.

https://www.mydaytondailynews.com/news/crime--law/csu-isn-sex-offender-registry-because-conviction-came-minor/th6R85KQTdeT46e8WobRoK/

CSU QB isn’t on sex offender registry because conviction came as minor
By Josh Sweigart and Max Filby - Staff Writer

Posted: 5:00 a.m. Saturday, March 24, 2018

Central State University football player Trent Mays was convicted in 2013 along with a Steubenville High School teammate of raping a 16-year-old girl who was incapacitated by alcohol. But because Mays was a juvenile at the time, his conviction does not appear on the sex offender registry.
If not for widespread publicity of the crime, Mays’ conviction would be unknown to many of his fellow students, and possibly to the school.

Central State officials would not comment on their decision to allow Mays to enroll and play football, citing federal laws protecting student privacy.

Mays is one of 15 registered sex offenders in Greene County and 43 in Montgomery County who are not on the public registry because they committed their crimes as juveniles. Many of them are now adults.

State law requires juvenile offenders to report to the sheriff’s office where they live, but not where they go to school.

TOM ARCHDEACON: Trent Mays learning to make right decisions at CSU 

Greene County officials say Mays is the only juvenile offender who has reported a current college address in Greene County and none have registered a college or university in Montgomery County.

Ma’lik Richmond, who was convicted along with Trent Mays for the Steubenville rape, faced intense public pressure when Youngstown State let him on their team last year. The school said the team wouldn’t let him play after an online petition called for his removal from the team. Richmond ended up playing following a settlement with the school after he filed a lawsuit.

A pitcher at Oregon State quit the college’s baseball team after a newspaper revealed he was charged with molesting a six-year-old girl when he was 15.

RELATED: Sex offender says Ohio’s registry ‘destroys lives,’ should be abolished

“He went from being a major league draft possibility to being not drafted at all and probably won’t ever play baseball his entire life,” said Derek Logue, a registered sex offender in Cincinnati who now runs a website advocating for abolishing the registry. “His life is ruined.”

In response to this incident, Oregon State this year enacted a new policy requiring all prospective students to self-report if they have prior convictions or sex offenses. Similar policies exist at some, but not all, Ohio schools.

RELATED: Student twice charged and acquitted of rape wants to put past behind

Logue doesn’t believe any new laws or restrictions are needed in Ohio schools.

“You have these laws that dictate every aspect of how we live our lives…and the laws just seem to pile up year after year,” he said. “In time it begins to restrict our ability to become a productive member of society.”

Registered Citizen says Ohio’s registry ‘destroys lives,’ should be abolished


It is not often I get a news article just on my own personal struggles with the law. Of course, they added Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser as the "Big But" to the story, but I'm just going to leave a couple of articles about him HERE and HERE and leave it at that.

https://www.mydaytondailynews.com/news/sex-offender-says-ohio-registry-destroys-lives-should-abolished/ANVp5LPEWrptbGOIgR5XDJ/

Sex offender says Ohio’s registry ‘destroys lives,’ should be abolished
By Josh Sweigart and Max Filby - Staff Writer

Posted: 4:00 a.m. Friday, March 23, 2018

CINCINNATI —
Derek Logue is a member of one of the few groups it is socially acceptable for people to openly hate. He knows online comments on this story will likely refer to him in the most vulgar terms, and no one will come to his defense.

But Logue said people like him are being unfairly discriminated against, and he thinks something should be done about it.

Logue is one of 17,236 adult registered sex offenders in Ohio, a group whose criminal histories are accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

Offenders must list with the local sheriff’s office the addresses of where they live, work, volunteer and go to school — information, along with their photograph, that is put into an online database. Depending on the severity of their crimes, they have to register between once a year for 15 years or — in the most serious cases — every 90 days for life.

Many also face restrictions on living too close to a school or daycare.

‘I served my time’

While some people have called for more public notification and oversight of offenders, Logue believes the entire registry should be taken down.

“The registry destroys lives,” said Logue, who will spend the rest of his life on the registry. “It has destroyed my life.”

Logue was convicted in Alabama in 2001 of sexually abusing an 11-year-old girl when he was 22, and spent three years in prison. When he was released, he moved to Cincinnati and was required by the state of Ohio to register as a “predator.”

Logue unsuccessfully challenged that designation in court, saying it is a higher label than Alabama considered his offense.

“I committed a crime. I served my time,” he said. “It’s one of those things you certainly regret and wish you could take back.”

Logue said the registry attaches an unfair label on individuals.

“If you’re a registered person people assume you’re a pedophile, that you’re a predator, that you’re just going to rape and molest at the first opportunity,” he said. “And that’s simply untrue.”

‘Absolutely essential’

Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser doesn’t have much sympathy for Logue’s argument, saying public distrust “is the price people pay when they commit crimes.”

“We need to track these people,” he said. “I think the sex offender registry is absolutely essential and something that perhaps a sex offender should’ve thought about before he engaged in something he presumably knew was illegal and against all social norms.”

But Logue said the harm done by the registry goes beyond public embarrassment. Because his home address is listed on a publicly searchable database, he said he faces danger every time he walks out his front door or rides his bike to the grocery store.

“It’s a very real possibility,” he said of someone taking it upon themselves to do him harm.

Forced to move

Logue is sitting in an armchair of his ramshackle apartment in northern Cincinnati a few yards from a railroad line that routinely shakes the building as trains go by.

He considers himself lucky to have a place to live. He has been homeless. He was previously forced to move because his apartment at the time was too close to a vocational school. He said it once took him 130 phone calls over seven months to find a landlord willing to rent to him.

“I would call and ask if they’d take me. I would get not just a ‘No’,” but ‘Aw, hell no!’”

He said he is on disability because of depression and anxiety.

“The day I got my disability was one of the happiest days of my life,” said Logue, who has a bachelor’s degree but said he could only get low-wage jobs that would never last more than a few months because customers or co-workers would see him on the registry.

“You’re only going to be (able to hold a job) until someone finds out you’re on the list and makes an issue out of it,” he said.

‘Balancing act’

Logue now runs a website advocating for reform to Ohio sex offender laws. There’s no registry for murderers, or drug dealers and gang members, he argues, so there shouldn’t be one for sex offenders who he says are statistically unlikely to re-offend.

“We’re focused so much on this public registry and we advertise it as a ‘tool’ to help people look for potential threats in society, but people do not use the registry for that purpose,” he said.

“First of all most people don’t look at the registry, and second of all, even when they do look at the registry, they don’t look at it because they’re necessarily concerned for their public safety, they look at it because of salacious reasons.”

But Gmoser said public safety is outweighed by any inconvenience people on the registry may face.

“It’s a balancing act and I fall in favor of society that has not engaged in crime and just wants to live a peaceful, safe life in a peaceful, safe neighborhood,” he said.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Ohio Supreme Court to review Bellevue obscenity case

From the Fremont News-Messenger

https://www.thenews-messenger.com/story/news/local/2018/03/11/ohio-supreme-court-review-bellevue-obscenity-case/411477002/

Ohio Supreme Court to review Bellevue obscenity case

Daniel Carson, Reporter Published 10:45 a.m. ET March 11, 2018

TOLEDO - A legal issue raised by a Bellevue man convicted of pandering obscenity will be decided by the Ohio Supreme Court

In a decision issued Friday, the Ohio 6th District Court of Appeals in Toledo also vacated the four-year prison sentence of Glen Gilbert, 76, of Bellevue, remanded his case to Sandusky County Common Pleas Court, and ordered the state to pay the costs of Gilbert's appeal.

The appeals court ruled that the common pleas court did not inform Gilbert of the residential restrictions for sexual offenders, as required in Ohio Revised Code 2950.034, rendering his guilty plea involuntary.

The appeals court noted that its decision conflicted with a decision on sexual offender residential restrictions and notifications made by the 8th District Court of Appeals in State v. Creed.

The court certified Gilbert's case for review and final determination by the Ohio Supreme Court.

Sandusky County Prosecutor Tim Braun said Friday that all appellate court districts have the different ability to create law.

When there are conflicting appellate decisions, it is up to the state supreme court to review and decide the matter, Braun said.

In Gilbert's case, the 6th District Court of Appeals ruled that defendants needed to be notified of sexual offender residential restrictions, he noted.

"These are all things they (defendants) want to be advised of during their plea," Braun said.

Gilbert originally faced four felony charges after police responded to an internet post seeking a sexual encounter with a teen girl.

Gilbert posted on the website Craigslist and believed he was communicating with a 13-year-old girl when Bellevue Police Detective Eric Burt responded to the man's request for a sexual encounter with a teen, according to police.

Gilbert pleaded guilty in September 2016 to one felony count of pandering obscenity involving a minor.

In a separate ruling on Friday, the Ohio 6th District appeals court denied an appeal  involving Gage Villarreal, 20, of Gibsonburg.

The Sandusky County Common Pleas Court sentenced Villarreal to 18 months in prison in May on a telecommunications fraud charge after the man admitted he had been involved in an online banking scheme to take money from a credit union.

Villarreal appealed the trial court's decision.

The appeals court ruled that Villarreal's due process rights were not violated by the trial court and that the Sandusky County court did not err in imposing cost of confinement and court-appointed counsel on Villarreal.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

A proposed bill would restrict public access to visual sex crime evidence. Not everyone agrees with it

This bill will make false allegations and false convictions harder to detect.

https://www.journal-news.com/news/proposed-bill-would-restrict-public-access-visual-sex-crime-evidence-not-everyone-agrees-with/Wlwcyfsiesl4IWPTgArIJP/

A proposed bill would restrict public access to visual sex crime evidence. Not everyone agrees with it.
Michael Pitman  Staff Writer
 12:00 a.m. Thursday, March 1, 2018

Ohio Rep. Wes Retherford’s bill designed to protect a crime victim’s rights could soon be headed for an Ohio House vote.

The bill, called the Victim’s Protection and Privacy Act, would prevent photos, videos and images of a victim of a sexually oriented crime from being accessed via a public records request. The bill was prompted by Retherford’s conversation with a Hamilton police detective.

These pieces of evidence were protected throughout a court case, including the appeals process, until the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in Caster vs. Columbus. In a split decision, the court said these pieces of investigative evidence could be released once the initial court case concludes.

House Bill 451 would prevent that. The House’s Government Accountability and Oversight Committee voted 11-0 on Tuesday to move the bill out of committee on for a full vote by the House. Retherford, R-Hamilton, believes it could be up for a floor vote next week.

“With the vote (on Tuesday), we are one step closer to ensuring victims of sexual violence are not subject to being re-victimized,” he said.

The bill is supported by the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, and the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence.

“Our members do occasionally receive public records requests for the types of records described in your bill,” wrote Steve Hall, assistant executive director for the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, to Retherford earlier this month.

“Many prosecutors have expressed to us that they make every effort to deny such requests. Others feel that there is currently no authority to do so. All agree that it would be very beneficial to have a clearly stated exclusion.”

While the Ohio Public Records Law provides transparency “critical to a functioning free society,” Camille Crary, director of legal services and policy with the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, said, “this loophole infringes on the rights and privacy interest of any person who happens to end up the victim of a sex crime.”

However, the bill is not supported by all. Dennis Hetzel, president and executive director with the Ohio News Media Association, said this bill “is not an easy one to oppose” because no one wants graphic content such as photos or videos released that could be used to re-victimize crime victims.

But there’s nothing in state law — even after the Caster decision — that says this would happen, and it has never occurred “to anyone’s knowledge,” Hetzel said in his testimony to the Government Accountability and Oversight Committee.

“Requesting records and receiving records are two different things. This is why there is no documented case of an offender receiving graphic photos after a case is closed,” Hetzel said.

“If such a request were made, it would be denied, and it would be upheld based on factors such as past Ohio Supreme Court decisions on the rights to privacy and the ‘catch-all’ exemption in our open records law that keeps material exempt if it is made secret by other portions of state and federal law.”

Retherford said the bill allows the legislature to be “proactive” to a possible situation “instead of being reactive to a scenario that could happen.”

Friday, October 27, 2017

Ohio judges can dismiss sex charges against kids under 13, justices rule

The Ohio Supreme Court makes another good ruling.

http://www.dispatch.com/news/20171025/ohio-judges-can-dismiss-sex-charges-against-kids-under-13-justices-rule

Ohio judges can dismiss sex charges against kids under 13, justices rule

By Randy Ludlow
The Columbus Dispatch

Posted Oct 25, 2017 at 11:18 AM
Updated Oct 25, 2017 at 11:24 AM

Juvenile court rules empower judges to dismiss some sex charges against children under age 13 charged with molesting a child close to their age, the Ohio Supreme Court declared Wednesday.

The court was divided on the Franklin County case, voting 4-3 to overturn a decision by the Franklin County Court of Appeals.

The 2013 case involved a 12-year-old boy charged with three delinquency counts of gross sexual imposition for conduct with a boy who was nearly 10 years old.

A Juvenile Court judge dismissed the charges, finding that court rules gave him discretion to end prosecution and order treatment in lieu of taking formal action.

The judge found that the two boys were close in age and that since no threat of force or violence was involved, it would be arbitrary to pursue charges against one child, but not the other.

Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien appealed the ruling to the court of appeals, which reversed the judge, leading to the Ohio Supreme Court ruling.

In the majority opinion, Justice William M. O’Neill wrote that a juvenile court’s concern may not always center on determining if a crime was committed.

“As we have recognized in the past, holding a formal proceeding to determine whether a child was motivated by innocent curiosity or by culpable sexual gratification may be as bad or worse for the children involved — and for society — as was the act itself,” his opinion said.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Terrence O’Donnell agreed with O’Neill. Justice Patrick F. Fischer concurred in a separate opinion.

Justice Sharon Kennedy wrote the dissent, joined by Patrick DeWine and Judith French.

Kennedy wrote that juvenile court rules do not give judges the authority to dismiss a formally filed charge and that cases can be screened by judges for alternative treatment prior to the filing of formal delinquency charges.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

YSU Football player successfully sues University for right to play football

The man served his time, let him play. And play he has, though just a little.

https://www.cbssports.com/college-football/news/convicted-rapist-malik-richmond-remains-at-youngstown-state-as-school-settles-suit/

Convicted rapist Ma'lik Richmond remains at Youngstown State as school settles suit
by Ben Kercheval

Oct 3, 2017

Ma'lik Richmond, the Youngstown State football player who was convicted in the Steubenville High School rape case of 2012 in Ohio, will be allowed to remain on the roster and play football for the program. This decision was reached when lawyers representing Richmond and Youngstown State filed a motion to dismiss the federal lawsuit filed by Richmond against the school.
The case was dismissed with prejudice. As such, Richmond cannot bring forward the same complaint. Attorneys for Richmond argued that the school could not bar him from playing so long as he followed school rules.
"What is most important is that Ma'lik moves on," said Susan Stone, one of Richmond's attorneys, in a statement obtained by the Associated Press. "This was never a case about money. This is a case about Ma'lik being given all the opportunities afforded a student of good standing."
"This has been a complex situation," a Youngstown State statement read. "While the settlement agreement may cause concern for some, we believe it is in the best overall interest of the university, students and the community."
Richmond, a defensive lineman, served less than a year in juvenile detention for his crime. He attended two schools after his release and joined YSU as a walk-on this past year. The lawsuit claimed that Richmond and his family spoke with YSU president Jim Tressel and coach Bo Pelini about joining the team, and that both were supportive.
However, in August, when news of Richmond's arrival got around, a petition was created to remove Richmond from the football team. The university then said that he would not play for the team but would remain part of the program and lose a year of eligibility. Richmond quit the team before filing his lawsuit in September. A federal judge granted a temporary order saying Richmond could not be barred from playing while the case was being reviewed unless, as Football Scoop noted, the coach (Pelini) opted not to play him. 
However, Pelini played Richmond in garbage time of a 59-9 blowout of Central Connecticut State on Sept. 16. "You have to be happy for the kid," Pelini said. "This isn't about me." Richmond has not played since.
Richmond's father, Nathaniel, was shot and killed in August by a probation officer in Steubenville when he opened fire on a judge, who returned fire.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Ohio House bill seeks to help young 'sexting' offenders

Here is the text of HB 355, which made headlines during my trips out of town.

http://www.cleveland.com/politics/index.ssf/2017/09/ohio_house_bill_seeks_to_help.html

Ohio House bill seeks to help young 'sexting' offenders
Posted on September 21, 2017 at 5:04 PM
By Jeremy Pelzer, cleveland.com jpelzer@cleveland.com

COLUMBUS, Ohio--New legislation in the Ohio House of Representatives would explicitly ban "sexting" in the state by people younger than 21, though the bill's sponsor says it's designed to give young offenders a second chance.

House Bill 355, introduced Thursday, would require every county in Ohio to create a "sexting educational diversion program" for Ohioans under 21 convicted for the first time of sending sexually explicit material featuring minors. Many Ohio counties already have such programs, but some smaller counties do not.

State Rep. Brian Hill, a Zanesville Republican co-sponsoring the bill, noted that it's already illegal in Ohio to possess or send explicit photos of minors. But those accused of such an offense are currently charged with possession of child pornography or another sex crime, he said, and young people convicted of "sexting" for the first time shouldn't have to face the prospect of jail time or being permanently labeled a sex offender. He said there have been several cases, including one in his district, where teens arrested for sexting became so distraught they committed suicide.

"This gives kids an opportunity to not ruin their life for something they did that's really stupid," Hill said.

Currently, there's no definition of "sexting" in Ohio law. HB 355 would prohibit people in Ohio under 21 from creating, possessing, or sending sexually explicit material featuring a minor using a telecommunications device.

The bill creates several exceptions, including for people with explicit photos of themselves or their spouse (so long as they don't distribute the photos) and those who receive unsolicited photos and immediately delete them.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Th Vindicator OpEd discusses the second chance given to football player on the registry

This is an OpEd worth reading.

http://www.vindy.com/news/2017/aug/06/the-school-of-redemption/

The school of redemption

Published: Sun, August 6, 2017 @ 12:00 a.m.
By Todd Franko

We forgive. We hate.

They are two polarizing traits that distinguish humans from all other species.

In America, we are exceptional at both, and that is the paradox in “The Land of Dreams.”

We watch news footage of kangaroo leadership and human atrocities in far-flung places and convince ourselves that we are an advanced and reasoned society as we sign checks to the needy, walk racetracks for cancer, build homes for the poor and so on.

All of it, though, conceals an ugly American truth – like a waterway masking a nasty shore.

We are the world’s best at punishment.

The International Centre for Prison Studies reported our American imprisonment at 716 per 100,000 people, followed by such world powers as, ahem, St. Kitts & Nevis (714), Seychelles (709), U.S. Virgin Islands (539), Barbados (521), Cuba (510), Rwanda (492), Belize (476) and Russia (475).

The Council of Europe measured criminal justice systems of like-minded countries. Our rate of 478 per 100,000 far exceeded Canada (188), Australia (130), New Zealand (192) and Japan (51).

These measures do not take into account the thousands of citizens trying to walk a straight line amid a societal minefield of demands such as: check this previous felon box, sign these criminal registries, don’t be this close to this place, call here at this time, don’t own this, pee here, work there and more.

Hell – in many parts of our glorious land, criminals get to pay for this privilege to be caught one inch out of line.

So by many measures, we are a society that has perfected punishment.

It is perfect, after all, right? Not one innocent person has ever been incarcerated and not one perpetrator has ever lived a purposeful life again after their crime.

That’s the legacy that now emerges in a great debate here in Youngstown in our religion that is football.

On the Youngstown State University football roster is Ma’lik Richmond. He played a role in one of the most heinous chapters in recent Ohio high-school football history in Steubenville. Richmond’s sex crime – as a teen against another teen – was horrific. What adult leadership in the city did then in trying to hide the crime was shameful.

That was Steubenville 2012.

In Youngstown 2017, Ma’lik is trying to walk on to the football team after enrolling last August.

It’s not a popular decision for many. But equally, it has support from many.

That’s how the team’s 2017 campaign will begin.

Much of the uproar is about letting a sex offender enjoy the privilege of playing on the team. Among the talk on social media:

“You give second chances to nonviolent offenders. Not to rapists.”

“Ask his victim if she believes he deserves a ‘2nd chance.’”

America – the land of perpetual punishment.

What Ma’lik did was reprehensible.

But finding punishment equitable to the pain endured by the victim is something we will never reconcile in any world calculation.

In mankind’s worst of crimes – murder – all advanced societies long ago abandoned the rule that all killers must be killed. From that foundation, all other punishments trickle.

We cannot possibly lock up forever all violent offenders – despite our best attempts.

So if we are to not lock up offenders forever, then re-entry and redemption are the paths we must plow. We trust the creation of those paths to be made at impartial times by impartial parties.

To ask a victim and family to decide on when and how punishment ends for a perpetrator is as skewed as asking the same from the perpetrator and that family. It’s a slippery, subjective slope.

Richmond’s five-year path to redemption has included a juvenile detention facility, a return to his high school and his football team (the latter I think was incorrect). It continued to one university setting, and then to another and then to YSU and now to YSU football.

All of it unblemished, as best as officials can determine.

Of the many things Youngstown State University is known for or is becoming known for, you can include a title of The School of Redemption.

From coaches to city corridors to athletes to students. If there is a national poll for rebuilding or redeeming careers, the current YSU might be ranked No. 1.

The latest chapter is Ma’lik.

If we’re enjoying much of what the university is now under President Tressel (as we seem to be) and what the team is now under Bo Pelini (as we seem to be), then this decision with Ma’lik deserves the same amount of opportunity as their other decisions.

This is their decision that they will own – made not just as president and coach, but also as husbands and fathers of daughters.

People who chide such decisions rarely have the privilege or pain of looking into someone’s eyes and making life-changing decisions such as this.

Criminals have that chance. And that they make the wrong one is always tragic and often fatal.

Our system says most such people will live amongst us at some point again.

Hopefully they see how other humans act with a life’s fate in their hands and can learn accordingly.

That’s the School of Redemption.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on Vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Campus Snowflakes push petition to remove football player on the registry from playing football fo YSU

Campus feminism strikes again.

http://fox8.com/2017/08/06/petition-started-to-remove-convicted-sex-offender-from-youngstown-state-football-team/

Petition started to remove convicted sex-offender from Youngstown State football team
POSTED 8:16 PM, AUGUST 6, 2017, BY FOX8WEBCENTRAL, UPDATED AT 08:24PM, AUGUST 6, 2017

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A student at Youngstown State University wants a football player who was found delinquent of rape removed from the  football team.

And she’s started a petition to make her wishes known.

Katelyn Davis started the petition on change.org on Saturday, and by Sunday evening, August 6, she had over 5,600 signatures. She says that the petition will be sent to Youngstown State President Jim Tressel and head football coach Bo Pellini.

On the petition’s home page, Davis writes:

Does he deserve a second chance? Yes, he does, and he is receiving that second chance by furthering his education on YSU’s campus. Does he deserve the privilege of playing on a football team and representing a university? Absolutely not. Education is a right, whereas playing on a sports team is not.

As the voice of the students of Youngstown State University, I ask that Richmond be removed from the football team, and this privilege be revoked from someone who absolutely does not deserve it.

Ma’Lik Richmond was found delinquent in the rape of the West Virginia girl after a party in August 2012.   He served time in a juvenile facility.

Richmond joined the YSU football team in January of  2017 as a walk-on.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Dayton Daily News reports on the Ohio Recodification Committee's recommended changes to the RC laws

It isn't too much but it IS a start. However, there's no guarantee that the legislature will make the changes, so our work is far from done.

Katie Wendell states in the article some victims' groups oppose it but didn't quote anyone but a sheriff's deputy.

http://www.mydaytondailynews.com/news/state--regional-govt--politics/overhaul-could-drop-thousands-from-sex-offender-registry/Vx8yW4iYcPGAdLqTqPvxxJ/

Overhaul could drop thousands from sex offender registry
Some argue putting label on sex offenders has little public benefit.
POLITICS By Katie Wedell - Staff Writer    48

Posted: 6:00 a.m. Friday, July 14, 2017

Two decades after Ohio began labeling sex offenders on a public database and setting restrictions on where they can live, a major overhaul to the law is being proposed that could drop thousands of lower-level offenders off the list

Some critics are even calling for doing away with the registry entirely, saying it’s been an expensive effort with little benefit to the public.

The Ohio Criminal Justice Recodification Committee — tasked with overhauling Ohio’s criminal code — delivered recommendations to the state Senate last month that they say will save local sheriffs’ departments money on administration while ensuring the most serious offenders are still monitored.

The committee, in its notes on the changes, says the goal was to give judges more discretion on whether to put low-level offenders on the registry and, “to prioritize registration for those who remain a danger to the community and not to dilute the registry with offenders who no longer remain a danger to reoffend.”

Ohio currently has more than 17,000 individuals on the sex offender registry. Less than a third are labeled Tier III, the highest tier, meaning they committed crimes like rape of children, sexual battery or murder with sexual motivation.

Opponents of registration have long argued that it does more harm than good to keep those who have served their time from re-integrating into society, and they say the registry unfairly labels people who commit low-level, non-violent crimes.

“It’s the greatest reform we’ve seen in Ohio since registration originally came to be,” Barb Wright, founder of Families and Individuals for Reform, said of the committee’s report.

Residency restrictions, which currently bar sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school or day care, have been a particularly hot button issue and the committee recommends getting rid of them.

“Empirical data shows there is no evidence to support that residency restrictions impact public safety,” the committee’s notes say.

In 2015 state supreme courts in California and Massachusetts struck down local residency laws that cities and counties had imposed. Texas also does not have a statewide residency rule, but numerous cities that enacted limits later withdrew them after challenges from reform groups.

“It poses huge hurdles for offenders, especially in the cities,” Wright said. “There’s literally no place that they can live.”

‘Should we have a registry at all?’

The Ohio ACLU called the recommendations an improvement, but said the committee fell far short of the sweeping reforms promised when it was formed by then Senate President Keith Faber.

“Should we have a registry at all?” said ACLU Chief Lobbyist Gary Daniels. “We should be having that discussion.”

The 24-member, bi-partisan committee included prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, prison officials and others and met for two years before submitting its final set of recommendations. The plan maintains the current three-tier registration system, but allows for low-level offenders to avoid registration at a judge’s discretion, allows offenders to petition to get off the registry after a set amount of time, and moves some crimes to lower tiers.

The lower tiers have fewer restrictions.

“There’s a lot of consensus that the registry is over-inclusive and then it’s ineffective because of the number of people the sheriffs are required to monitor,” said Jill Beeler, appellate services director for the Ohio Public Defenders Office and a member of the recodification committee.

But some victims’ rights groups see the registry as a necessary piece of law enforcement’s ability to fight sexual violence.

“This is a big deal for them,” said Sgt. Julie Stephens, head of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Sex Offender Registration and Notification Unit.

Stephens said victims often call her detectives upset when their attacker is no longer on the registry.

More judicial discretion

Under the committee’s recommendations, a judge would determine whether Tier I and Tier II offenders need to register.

For Tier II offenders, a group whose crimes include unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, there would be a presumption in favor of registration for 25 years, according to the committee’s report.

Tier I offenders, whose crime categories include voyeurism, would be subject to registration only if a judge deemed them a danger to the community or likely to reoffend.

Ohio currently has more than 7,000 people on the registry who are labeled Tier I or the equivalent under rules prior to the Adam Walsh Act, the federal law in 2006 (adopted in Ohio in 2007) that directed states to classify sex offenders into three tiers based on the offense they committed.

The committee did not recommend any changes to Tier III offenders, who would have the same lifetime registration requirements as they do now.

But there likely will be fewer Tier III offenders because the committee recommended moving some offenses from Tier III to Tier II.

Sexual battery, felonious assault with sexual motivation, and rape except for the rape of a child would become Tier II offenses under the proposal.

Unlawful sexual conduct with a minor would move from Tier II down to a Tier I offense.

Recidivism rates questioned

One of the main arguments in favor of registration has been that neighbors should be informed of where sex offenders live because they pose a continued risk to society.

But opponents have long demanded evidence that sex offenders re-offend more often than convicted criminals. It’s not clear that they do.

A comprehensive Department of Justice study from the late 1990s found that within three years of prison release, 5.3 percent of sex offenders were rearrested for another sex crime, a higher percentage than the 1.3 percent for non-sex offenders.

But sex offenders were less likely than non-sex offenders to be rearrested for any offense — 43 percent of sex offenders versus 68 percent of non-sex offenders, according to the DOJ report.

The data was collected before Ohio began registering sex offenders in 1997.

The three-year recidivism rate for all Ohio offenders released in 2011 was 27.5 percent, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. Recidivism rates among sex offenders specifically wasn’t available.

Registration opponents say many of the sex offender arrests are for non-sex crimes, including failure to register.

The recodification committee recommends making a first offense for failure to register a misdemeanor, with only subsequent violations resulting in a felony.

“There are high risk offenders, and I recognize that society wants a way to keep track of those people,” Wright said. “Unfortunately these other low-risk offenders get caught in the snare.”

She said low-level sex offenders can end up committing further crimes down the road because they are unable to find steady housing and employment due to the stigma of registration.

Local law enforcement sees things differently.

“We often see low level offenders re-offending,” Stephens said. Particularly they see Tier I offenders convicted for child pornography committing the same offenses again. And Stephens said those crimes are not victimless, as offenders often use children known to them in their crimes.

“I don’t know how much it changes a person’s behavior, but at least we know where to find them if they have reoffended,” she said. “At least we have some type of control and at least we’re letting people know where they want to be cautious.”

Ability to deregister

Another change would allow sex offenders the ability to petition to get off the registry after a certain amount of time.

The petition could be filed after five years for Tier I offenders, 10 years for Tier II and 15 years for Tier III.

A judge would be able to order a risk assessment of the offender and hold a hearing, if necessary, to decide whether to grant or deny the request.

Wright’s son is on the registry for unlawful sexual conduct with a minor due to what she says was a consensual relationship with a younger girlfriend when they were teens. She sees the ability to deregister as a good thing.

“There are just so many people on the register that don’t belong there,” she said. “(The committee) recognizes the cost and they recognize that there is capacity for rehabilitation.”

Josh and Jennah Strader of Beavercreek also have spoken in favor of reforms.

They were 19 and 14 when she became pregnant with their first child. A decade later they are married with three children, but Josh — now 28 — remains a Tier II registered sex offender because of his conviction for unlawful sexual conduct with a minor.

“If he’s able to get off the registry, it would tremendously change our lives in such a positive way,” Jennah Strader said in December. “He would be able to be the father that he wants to be that he can’t be now.”

Under the proposed changes, Strader would be able to immediately petition a judge to get off the registry.

If the changes are adopted, it will be illegal for anyone age 13 or younger to have sex with an adult over 18, but anyone 14 and up could have consensual sex with an older teen or an adult as long as there is only a five year age difference or less.

“When children of similar age engage in consensual activity, criminally charging youths for such behavior is generally not appropriate,” the committee wrote in its notes. “These changes ensure that the vulnerable are protected, predators are punished, and youthful indiscretions do not carry a lifetime of unwarranted consequences.”

There is no timetable for when the Senate will act on the recommendations, which are included in hundreds of other changes to the Ohio criminal code.

Beeler said the committee has been given no indication if the recommendations will be taken on as a whole or split into smaller bills.