Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Ohio Sex Offenders

ME2 had a question regarding a statement made in the Toledo Blade article. I can certainly understand her confusion, since the article, while very descriptive about the new technology, fails miserably at describing even the basics of the sex offender law.

Simply stated, there are a few categories of sex offenders in Ohio: Sex Offenders, Habitual Sex Offenders, or Sexual Predators. Juvenile Offenders are classified as: Juvenile Offender Registrants, Habitual Sex Offenders or Sexual Predators. Under Ohio's Sex Offender laws (Ohio Revised Code Chapter 2950--sorry I can't link directly to the codes), the commission of certain offenses will trigger the duty to register. The existence of certain factors will trigger higher duties. For instance, rape is a sexually oriented offense the commission of which will require an offender to become an Offender Registrant which requires him/her to register certain information with the local Sheriff's Office and to update it annually for a period of ten years. Under state law, this classification is not eligible for community notification--if you look at the facts, these are first time offenders with no extenuating circumstances.

If that same offender had a prior conviction for a sexually oriented offense, the sentencing court would be required to classify the offender as a Habitual Sex Offender (considered more serious because now we have a history of similar offenses) which in turn requires a longer period of registration with the Sheriff's Office (at least 20 years but may last the offenders lifetime) and may trigger what the Toledo article is really talking about: community notification. The Court may choose to require the sheriff's Office to notify the community about the presence of a Habitual Sex Offender, but the court is not required to order community notification of every Habitual Sex Offender. According to the Statute (2950.11), notices should be sent not only to neighbors within 1,000 feet of the offender's residence, but also to day care facilities, schools and public children services agency within the "specified geographical notification area," which according to Ohio Administrative Code 109-5-2-01 is the school district where the sex offender resides.

Further, if the Court receives a psychological evaluation or other evidence indicating the fact that this same offender is likely to commit more sexually oriented offenses in the future, the Court should be classifying the offender as a Sexual Predator. This classification requires lifetime registration, quarterly updates with the Sheriff's Office and, in every case, community notification.

The Blade article also did not give direct links to the AG sex offender website. By State law, information regarding juvenile offenders may not be posted on the internet. (2950.081.) However, juvenile information is public record and you should be able to obtain it from your county sheriff's office.

The AG site contains links to County Sheriff's Offices around the state. Sheriffs have posted sex offender information on the internet for several years. However, there is no standardized information. Some sites contain an offender's name and address with a photo. Not all sites list the offense or when it occurred. Some sites give details like the age of the victim (something this mommy considers very important). I'd like to know if the victims were family, strangers or acquaintances. The AG site went live in December and is the first attempt to consolidate this information statewide. Hopefully, consistency in the information provided will come with time.

As an aside, I do check my local sex offender list periodically. I was stunned to learn that I am quite literally surrounded by sex offenders. When I walked my daughter while I was on maternity leave, I passed the houses of at least four registered sex offenders. One offender is directly across the street from a local day-care while another lives five houses down from a local park. Several live within 1,000 feet of a school, something that appears to be prohibited by 2950.031. It will be interesting to see how the State enforces that provision--I can't imagine evicting sex offenders who are actually property owners.

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