Sex-Offender Registration Termination Not Available for Pre-2008 Offenses
The Ohio Supreme Court today ruled that a statutory procedure allowing sex offenders to terminate reporting requirements available to Adam Walsh Act (AWA) offenders who committed certain sexual offenses after the state’s 2008 implementation of the AWA is not available to Megan’s Law sex offenders who committed crimes prior to the 2008 implementation date.
A majority of the court voted to deny Aaron K. Von’s request to terminate his registration duties. He argued that even though he had been convicted of sexual assault of a child in 1997 in Colorado, an Ohio judge could allow him to end his reporting requirements based on the 2008 Ohio law. Writing for the majority, Justice Terrence O’Donnell stated that Von was subject to the requirements of the 1996 Megan’s Law, which had no provision for terminating a sex offender’s duty to comply with registration requirements.
Von Sought Change When He Moved to Ohio
Von moved to Ohio in 2011 and registered as a sex offender, but did not specify his classification. He requested that a trial court terminate his duty to comply with sex-offender registration citing R.C. 2950.15.
The state opposed the motion, claiming that R.C. 2950.15, the AWA, applies only to sex offenders convicted on or after Jan. 1, 2008. Citing the Ohio Supreme Court’s 2011 State v. Williams opinion, prosecutors argued the statute could not be retroactively applied to Von. Von was convicted under Megan’s Law, which was repealed and replaced by the AWA, and did not contain a process to terminate the registration requirements that is currently part of the AWA.
Under Megan’s Law, Von was first classified as a sexually oriented offender, but was later classified as a sexual predator. While seeking to terminate his reporting requirements, Von also attempted to stop the state from changing his classifications under the AWA from a tier one sexually oriented offender to a tier three offender because only tier one offenders can apply for termination of the reporting requirements.
The trial court denied his motion to terminate registration because it found that Megan’s Law had no provisions to end reporting requirements and that subsequent amendments to the state law to implement the AWA were not retroactive.
Von appealed to the Eleventh District Court of Appeals, which reversed the trial court in a split decision. The lead opinion concluded the law “expressly states that it applies to an offender regardless of when the offense was committed.” It indicated at the time of its ruling, the trial court had not yet determined if Von qualified as a tier one offender under the AWA’s classification but that if it did find him to be a tier one offender, it could consider the merits of Von’s argument that he is eligible to terminate his reporting requirements.
The state appealed that decision, and the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.
Application of Law Not Retroactive
Justice O’Donnell explained that the issue before the court was whether the procedures to relieve an AWA offender from the obligation to report applied to a Megan’s Law offender. The old law, designated as Megan’s Law, established a comprehensive system of classifying sex offenders into three categories: sexually oriented offenders, habitual sex offenders, and sexual predators. In contrast, the new law, the AWA, had new standards for sexual-offender classification and registration in conformity with the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, and pursuant to R.C. Chapter 2950 offenders were divided into tier I, tier II, and tier III sex or child-victim offenders.
Justice O’Donnell wrote that the Court in the Williams case examined a provision of the AWA that was expressly made to be retroactive and added a punishment for those convicted before the act’s adoption. The Court found that provision violated the Ohio Constitution’s prohibition against the General Assembly’s passage of retroactive laws.
“Subsequently, we clarified only persons who commit their underlying offense on or after the effective date of the Adam Walsh Act can be constitutionally subjected to its requirements,” he wrote.
As noted by the appeals court, an “eligible offender” defined by R.C. 2950.15(A) does state that it applies to a person convicted or having pleaded guilty to a sexually oriented offense “regardless of when the offense was committed.” However, Justice O’Donnell emphasized the section also states that to be an eligible offender a person must also be a “tier I sex offender/child-victim offender.”
Justice O’Donnell pointed out that “regardless of when the offense was committed” provision does not by itself qualify an individual to be an eligible offender because the statute uses the conjunction “and,” which imposes the dual requirement that the person must also be a tier one offender, and Von has not been classified as a tier one offender.
Justice O’Donnell wrote that the provisions of the AWA cannot be constitutionally applied to sex offenders who committed their crimes before the 2008 effective date of the AWA.
“Notably, the legislature made no reference to Megan’s Law, which is indicative of its intent that those offenders are not eligible for termination of those registration duties,” he concluded.
The Court reversed the ruling of the Eleventh District, which held that Von had a right to seek to terminate his registration requirements. It affirmed the portion of the appeals court ruling that remanded the case to the trial court to determine the Megan’s Law classification for Von.
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Sharon L. Kennedy, and Judith L. French joined the majority opinion.
Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger concurred in judgment only.
Justice William M. O’Neill dissented without a written opinion.
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