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Ohio's Adam Walsh Act Registration Not Retroactive

by Mark Wilson

The Ohio Supreme Court held that amendments to the state's sex offender registration law do not apply to defendants who committed their crimes before January 1, 2008.

In 1996, the Ohio legislature enacted Megan's Law, establishing a comprehensive system of classifying sex offenders into three categories: sexually-oriented offenders, habitual sex offenders, and sexual predators. The legislature then enacted the Adam Walsh Act in 2007, repealing Megan's Law effective January 1, 2008. That legislation created new standards for sex-offender classification and registration, consistent with the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act. The law divides sex offenders into Tier I, Tier II, and Tier III sex or child-victim offenders.

The Ohio Supreme Court held in State v. Williams, 129 Ohio.St.3d 344, 2011-Ohio-3374, 952 N.E.2d 1108, that Ohio's Adam Walsh Act is punitive and "as applied to defendants who committed sex offenses prior to its enactment, violates Section 28, Article II of the Ohio Constitution, which prohibits the General Assembly from passing retroactive laws." The Court subsequently "clarified that 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." See: In re Bruce S., 134 Ohio.St.3d 477, 2012-Ohio-5696, 983 N.E.2d 350.

Aaron K. Von was convicted of Colorado sex crimes against a child on January 29, 1997. He moved to Ohio in 2011 and registered as a sex offender there but did not specify his classification.

Von moved to terminate his duty to comply with Ohio's sex offender registration laws, pursuant to section 2950.15 of the Ohio Adam Walsh Act. The state opposed the motion, citing Williams in support of its argument that Section 2950.15 applies only to sex offenders convicted on or after January 1, 2008.

The trial court denied Von's motion to terminate, because Megan's law was in effect in Ohio at the time of his 1997 offenses and the Adam Walsh amendments were not retroactive.

The Ohio Court of Appeals reversed, holding that Section 2950.15 may be applied retroactively because the statute expressly states that it applies to an offender, regardless when the offense was committed. The majority found that the statute creates a new right for offenders without imposing a new burden or obligation on the state. The majority also concluded that the provisions of the Walsh legislation, which could not be applied retroactively could be severed from the other provisions.

The Ohio Supreme Court reversed, holding that "as established by this court in Williams and In re Bruce S., the tier classification system of the Adam Walsh Act cannot be constitutionally applied to Von or other sex offenders who committed offenses prior to its effective date, regardless of when they are convicted or sentenced."

"Given the confusion regarding Von's current status," the Court "remanded the cause to the trial court with instructions to determine the appropriate classification for Von in accordance with Megan's law." See: In re Von, Ohio St.3d 2016-Ohio-3020, N.E.2d(Ohio 2016).

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