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Published: Friday, 4/8/2005

8 sex offenders battle new Ohio residency rule

BY ROBIN ERB
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Three weeks before a state law goes into effect that could force registered sex offenders to move if their homes are within 1,000 feet of a school, several unnamed sex offenders have asked a judge to put it on hold.

Among the plaintiffs, known only as John Does 1 through 8, is a 23-year-old Lucas County man who said he was 18 when he had consensual sex with a 16-year-old female friend.

The man pleaded guilty to a fifth-degree felony after the girl's parents learned of the relationship. He is now living with his grandmother near a school, he said in the complaint, which is in front of U.S. District Judge Sandra Beckwith in Cincinnati.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Cincinnati-based Prison Reform Advocacy Center filed the suit on behalf of the plaintiffs. Saying they will ask a judge to certify the complaint as a class-action suit, both groups argue that the law is both impractical and unconstitutional.

"The underlying goal I don't have a problem with: Protect children. [That's a] good idea. We should protect our children," said Jeff Gamso, a Toledo lawyer and legal director for the Ohio ACLU.

"But the assumption that we will protect our children by prohibiting anyone convicted of a sex crime from living within 1,000 feet of a school is nonsense," he said.

The law is unconstitutional because it unfairly limits where sex offenders may live, and treats all offenders the same - no matter what level of risk they pose to others, Mr. Gamso said.

Under current law, most convicted sex offenders in Ohio must register work and home addresses with a local sheriff. Failing to do so can be a felony.

Recent studies, including a review by The Blade of sex offenders' addresses, indicate that a high percentage of offenders live within the prohibited 1,000 feet of schools. Although the 1,000-foot rule has been on the books for more than a year, it's not until later this month that law directors and local prosecutors will have the ability to ask judges to force a sex offender to move.

Also named in the lawsuit is Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro and representatives from Hamilton County, where the first John Doe came forward with his complaint against the law, and from Delaware County, where letters have been sent to sex offenders ordering them from homes within 1,000 feet of a school.

Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates and Toledo Law Director Barb Herring are among the officials in Lucas County who have been meeting to discuss letters they plan to send to local offenders living too close to schools.

Contact Robin Erb at:

robinerb@theblade.com

or 419-724-6133.



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