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Published: Friday, 3/19/2010

Court deals setback to Ohio sex offender law


COLUMBUS - The Ohio Supreme Court has delivered a setback to efforts by state lawmakers to apply sex offender notification requirements laid out in the federal Adam Walsh Act.

Lawmakers had intended for communities to be notified every time a sex offender in the most severe category began living, working, or going to school in their neighborhoods. But the high court found the state law's language conflicts with that intention.

In a unanimous decision yesterday, the court ruled that sex offenders classified in the most dangerous category after the law took effect Jan. 1, 2008, can still avoid the new community reporting requirements under exceptions similar to those in Ohio's old law.

Sen. Tim Grendell (R., Geauga County), chairman of the Judiciary Committee on Criminal Justice, said yesterday he'll introduce a bill to fix the offending language. "Apparently the Supreme Court doesn't think we've got it artfully written," he said

Ohio was the first state to put substantially in place the sex offender registration and notification system required by the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006. In June, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr., allowed another year for states to meet the requirements after complaints about the cost and work.

In the Ohio high court's majority opinion, Justice Robert Cupp agreed with lower courts that the wording of the law was clear in allowing the exceptions to community reporting to continue to apply.

The case involved Stephen McConville, who pleaded guilty in Lorain County in July, 2008, to rape and gross sexual imposition. After a hearing, a trial court decided he was unlikely to commit future sexually oriented offenses and could therefore be exempted from ongoing community notification requirements.

The 9th District Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's decision that McConville was eligible for the exemption even though he'd been classified in the most serious sex offender category, after the new law's tougher notification standards took effect.

Deborah Donovan Rice, executive director of Stop It Now, a child sexual abuse prevention group, said the ruling reinforces her organization's efforts to teaching techniques to stop violence before it happens.

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