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Published: Saturday, 3/12/2005

Sex offender law faces hurdles

BY ROBIN ERB
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Some Ohio and Michigan attorneys are preparing to challenge new measures to tighten the reins on sex offenders.

In Ohio, a law will allow local prosecutors to try to evict someone whose home is within 1,000 feet of a school, beginning April 28.

A Cincinnati attorney has filed suit, calling that measure unconstitutional. He noted that such buffer zones make large tracts of land, especially in densely populated cities, off-limits to people trying to rebuild their lives after prison.

"It has the practical effect of making it very difficult for sex offenders across the state from finding a place to live," said David Singleton, of the Cincinnati-based Prison Reform Advocacy Center, which represents prisoners and ex-offenders. "It's banishment."

Moreover, he said, his client, identified only as John Doe, was convicted of several crimes, including rape, but all his victims were adult. He apparently poses no threat to children, Mr. Singleton said.

Mr. Singleton filed suit in the U.S. District Court in Cincinnati challenging the school buffer zones.

But he said he most likely will ask a judge this month to qualify the lawsuit as a class-action complaint, meaning that other clients with similar situations to John Doe might also become plaintiffs.

Local attorneys and law enforcement officials for months have said questions over the new measure may lead to court challenges. Among them: whether the state can force longtime property owners from their homes, or what happens to a sex offender if a school is built near a home where they already live.

In Lucas County, local prosecutors plan to send out letters before April 28 alerting sex offenders if they are living too close to a school. If an offender refuses to move, a prosecutor can ask a judge to force the offender to relocate.

In Michigan, the state is preparing to put offenders' photos online in May.

However, an attorney there complains that is unfair to juveniles who have committed relatively minor crimes.

By late yesterday, attorney Thomas Lazar, of Bingham Farms, Mich., said his list of plaintiffs had grown to 13.

More than 2,000 of the state's listed sex offenders are juveniles or young adults whose records were cleared after they successfully completed probation and other conditions under the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act, a law that allows people 17 to 21 to clear their records if they are first-time, nonviolent offenders, Mr. Lazar said.

But even if their records are sealed, they have been showing up on the state's sex offender Web site operated by Michigan State Police, he said.

"I've always maintained that the sex offender [registry] is one of the most important things we have, and we have to maintain it and keep it up to date. We have a lot of sociopaths," he said.

But those in his list include, for example, teenagers having consensual sex with one another. Because those offenders are now on the Web Site along with dangerous pedophiles, it will be difficult for them to find housing or get a job, the attorney said.

"These are not seriously bad people," he said.

Contact Robin Erb at:

robinerb@theblade.com

or 419-724-6133.



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