New Legislation Leaves Future Of Sex Offenders Uncertain

This story was written by Jess Mosser, The Post
n order issued Wednesday in federal district court has recognized the concerns of sex offenders whose sentences have been altered by a new Ohio law, leaving the fates of several local sex offenders in flux.

Northern District of Ohio Judge Patricia A. Gaughan and the Ohio Attorney General's office agreed to a statewide stay on retroactively applying the rules in Ohio Senate Bill 10, which changes the way sex offenders are classified and alters the punishments of those convicted under the old rules. The order comes after numerous challenges to the law, including 23 in Athens County.

Ohio previously classified sex offenders in seven different categories depending on the severity of the crime. Under the new law there would be only three classifications, limiting the range of punishments.

For example, an offender sentenced to 20 years of registration could be moved into another category and be required to continue to register their personal identification information, home address and work addresses for five more years.

The Athens County Sheriff's Office, which enforces the registration of local sex offenders, had not received any official word from the attorney general's office as of yesterday but would abide by such an order, said Lt. Darrell Cogar. The court's involvement does not come as a surprise, given the amount of offenders who expressed concern, he said.

"We've seen several people who've been upset with the idea of years being added on to their community notification," he said.

Community notification involves sex offenders telling their neighbors the crimes of which they've been convicted.

Calls to the attorney general's office were not returned.

The lawsuit, filed by the Office of the Ohio Public Defender, should provide a ruling on the law's constitutionality and provide some deal of clarity on the local challenges, said David Winkelmann, a local attorney handling several of the challenges. At issue is whether changing the registration requirements after a conviction is a civil or criminal matter.

If considered a criminal matter, the retroactive application could be declared unconstitutional, said Pat McGee, another local attorney handling a reclassification challenge.

Locally, the challenges are being considered a civil action, meaning a challenging sex offender does not have a right to a court-appointed attorney, said Keller Blackburn, assistant county prosecutor.

Some counties, such as Cuyahoga and Franklin, have been treating it as a criminal matter and issuing court-appointed attorneys, said Amy Borror, public information officer for the public defender's office.

Eight sex offenders have asked for and been denied an attorney in Athens County, according to court documents. The court has been referring them to Southeastern Ohio Legal Services, which provides civil legal services to low-income applicants.

The agency's Athens office has received inquiries from some local offenders, said Anne Rubin, managing attorney. But the agency does not have the funding to guarantee it can take every case.

Without the right to legal counsel, challenging sex offenders could have to present their cases without an attorney if they cannot find one, Blackburn said.

This presents a formidable challenge for the average person, Winkelmann said.

"When I printed out the (Senate Bill 10) statute, it totaled around 305 pages," he said. "So it would be fairly complex."
© 2008 The Post via U-WIRE