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Published: Sunday, 5/18/2008

Sex-offender registration law stricken

ASSOCIATED PRESS

CLEVELAND - A state law that requires increasing the length of time convicted sex offenders must register with police is unconstitutional, a judge has ruled.

The law, which took effect in January, wrongfully increases punishment without a court hearing and is applied to offenders who committed crimes before the law was passed in 2007, Judge Ronald Suster of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court said.

Judge Suster, who issued the ruling last week in a case involving a man convicted of sexual battery in 2003, said the law's intention is "to punish and ostracize this unpopular group," rather than enhance public safety.

The state legislature passed the law last year to comply with a federal one that requires states to increase sex offender registration requirements by 2009 or lose some federal funding.

The federal law is named after Adam Walsh, a 6-year-old Florida boy abducted and killed in 1981.

The state has about 23,000 registered sex offenders under eight classifications.

Under the new law, offenders are classified under a three-tier system.

It requires longer registration times for felons and mandatory community notification for some offenders once considered low level.

The goal was to prevent sex offenders from slipping through the cracks and committing other sex crimes.

Judge Suster's ruling backs the arguments made in a federal class-action lawsuit filed in January by the Cuyahoga County Public Defender's Office on behalf of sex offender registrants statewide.

The law "goes beyond mere 'official archives of criminal records' into a system that effectively ostracizes offenders and subjects the offenders to harassment and ridicule as well as potential abuse," Judge Suster wrote.

The ruling prevents the state from enforcing the law against Tremaine Evans, 30, who was convicted of sexual battery in 2003 and served a year in prison.

Evans was instructed to register every year for 10 years as a sexually oriented offender. Under the new law, he had been reclassified as a Tier III sex offender who must register every 90 days, notify neighbors of his criminal record, and live by residency restrictions for the rest of his life.

Evans' challenge was one of nearly 1,000 filed in Cuyahoga County this year, according to the Cuyahoga County Public Defender's Office.

The Cuyahoga County prosecutor's office, which handled the case, has 30 days to appeal.

The Ohio attorney general's office is prepared to help the county defend the constitutionality of the law, said Jennifer Brindisi, a spokesman for the attorney general's office.

A judge in Clermont County near Cincinnati upheld the law in a February ruling, as did a different Cuyahoga County judge earlier this month, Ms. Brindisi said.



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