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Ohio Supreme Court: ‘Avoid Impregnating a Woman’ as Probation Condition for Failing to Pay Child Support Unreasonable

It was undisputed that London Chapman fathered 11 children and, as of court records in 2018, owed approximately $200,000 in back child support. He was charged with 11 felony counts of nonsupport of dependents in six separate cases and sentenced to five years on “community control” (probation). There were several conditions with that community control, and one of them read as follows: “Make all reasonable efforts to avoid impregnating a woman during the community control period.” This condition could be lifted for several reasons, including if he established he could support his current children or was legally relieved of that obligation.

Chapman appealed, arguing that the condition violated his constitutional right to procreate. The trial court ruled that it was constitutional because it was “narrowly tailored” to serve the State’s interest in preventing him from fathering more children he couldn’t support. The court of appeals rejected Chapman’s argument and affirmed the condition.

The Ohio Supreme Court took the case and said that there was “no question” that the right to procreate is a “fundamental right” under the U.S. Constitution. The Court explained that fundamental rights are routinely curtailed with criminal sentences, including probation. But “the justification must be more exacting so as to ensure that the condition does not limit the probationer’s liberty more than necessary to achieve the goals of community control,” the Court said.

In State v. Jones, 550 N.E.2d 469 (Ohio 1990), the Ohio Supreme Court established a three-step analysis in determining the reasonableness of a community control condition. First, the condition must be “reasonably related to rehabilitating the offender;” second, the condition must have “some relationship to the crime;” and third, the condition must relate to conduct “which is criminal or reasonably related to future criminality and serves the statutory ends of probation.”

The question, then, wasn’t whether the condition was unconstitutional but whether it reasonably related to Chapman’s crime of conviction for purposes of community control. Under R.C. 2919.21(B), it is a crime not to provide support that is within a person’s “ability and means.” The statute does not criminalize failure to support dependents in and of itself, the Court explained. “Rather, it penalizes an individual’s failure to provide the mandated support that he can pay.”

“The criminality of Chapman’s conduct is separate from the number of children he has,” said the Court. “While his obligation might increase with more children, his ability to pay is separate. And it is his failure to pay as his means and ability allow that is criminal – not the number of children for whom he failed to provide.” The Court summed up the case as follows: “Chapman’s criminal conduct was not fathering children, it was failing to pay support.”

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Related legal case

State v. Chapman

 

 

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