Sex offenders challenge law

D.J. Petty

42 civil suits filed in response to new legislation

Portage County has joined a growing list of Ohio county courts fielding a rash of civil complaints about a new federal sex offender registry law.

A public record search showed that out of the 157 registered sex offenders in Portage County, 42 have already filed civil suits opposing the Federal Adam Walsh Act, a newly enacted law that requires more frequent registration and uniform nationwide reclassification for registered sex offenders.

According to Portage County Public Defender Dennis Lager, there are several platforms for contesting the law.

“The challenge is going to be about retroactive law,” said Lager. “You’re going to see double jeopardy, at least.”

So far, Lager’s office has sent 10 pro se packets — legal instructions for individuals representing themselves — to people seeking to challenge the law as unconstitutional and a violation of their civil rights. An Ohio statute gives registered offenders 60 days to challenge the new law or their right to refute could be waived.

Ted Hart, deputy director of communications for the Ohio Attorney General’s office, said he believes implementing the new federal guidelines will be advantageous to the state of Ohio.

“The biggest benefit is sex offenders will be more easily identified as they move across the country,” said Hart, referring to how the federal requirements of the act require all states to adopt the same classification for registered sex offenders.

Before the implementation of the new law, Ohio designated offenders as sexually oriented offenders — the least severe — to habitual offenders and sexual predators at the more serious end of the spectrum. The new system is based on three tiers.

The state of Ohio began enforcing the law at the beginning of January.

Hart explained the law as “offense-based,” which means those who commit the most severe crimes receive the stiffest penalties. According to a letter from the Ohio Attorney General’s office in early December, “tier three” offenses, the most serious sex crime category, will require registered offenders to register every 90 days for the rest of their lives — including juvenile sex offenders older than 14 years old.

However, when asked about the civil suits popping up across the state, Hart said the Attorney General’s office anticipated the challenges.

“We are not surprised that there are challenges to the new law,” he said.

He explained that the office would “review each case” and that they would immediately comply with any stop orders issued to the office. As the issue of the constitutionality of the law is being decided, Hart did stress that carrying out the law was still important.

“Enforcement is the responsibility of the local sheriff,” he said.

Several phone calls to Portage County Sheriff Duane Kaley were not returned.

According to Vicki Bennett, assignment commissioner for Portage County Common Pleas Court Judge Laurie J. Pittman, hearings are scheduled to begin February 27. Bennett said she believes that Common Pleas Court Judge John A. Enlow will begin to hear cases in mid-February.

Contact public affairs reporter D.J. Petty at [email protected].