Tuesday, January 15, 2008

New Sex Offender Registration Rules Cause Controversy

By Karen Zolka

"I've had people tell me they never would have taken a plea agreement if they knew this was coming," says local defense attorney David Winkelmann.

Winkelmann is referring to the new Sex Offender and Notification Act, SORN, which took affect January 1.

In Ohio, SORN was passed so state law would align with the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection & Safety Act that was signed into law in 2006 by President George W. Bush.

Before SORN, sex offenders in Ohio were classified in one of seven categories, depending on the severity of the crime. The sentencing was left up to the discretion of judges and juries.

With SORN enacted, sex offenders are now divided among three categories, and penalties are built into sentencing guidelines outlined by state-wide legislation. Most of the restructured legislation will re-classify lower-level sexual offenders as more dangerous sexual predators.

Classified as sexually oriented, Tier I offenses are the least severe and require offenders to check-in with the sheriff's office where they live and work for up to 15 years. Offenses classified as Tier I include stalking with sexual motivation and illegal use of a minor in nude materials or performances.

The next level--Tier II offenses, classified as habitual offenses, require offenders to check-in every 180 days for up to 25 years. Prostitution is one example of a Tier II offense.

The most serious offenders are classified as sexual predators, a Tier III ranking. Predators are required to check-in every 90 days for the rest of their life. SORN requires neighbors to be notified when Tier III level offenders move into an area. Tier III level offenses include murder with sexual motivation and rape.

With the enactment of this new law, plea agreements previously made in sex-offender cases may be null-and-void.

Attorney David Winkelmann says those pleas are a "contractual agreements that the state has made with many of these people, and is now reneging."

Sex offenders who already have been sentenced can either attend another hearing or file a petition.

"We have folks call everyday, maybe even a couple times a day, wanting to know where to pick up a petition," says Athens County Clerk of Courts Ann Trout.

David Winkelmann believes the new SORN laws violate the Constitutional separation between the judicial branch and the legislative branches of government. He says the judicial decisions are "totally out of the hands of judges." Instead, the decisions are made by the legislature in Columbus.

The sheriff's office reports there are 103 registered sex offenders living in Athens County. To see if there are any sex offenders living on your street, check the Athens County Sheriff's Office website.


Anonymous said...

Like your story. Is there a way to see the actual news cast, or just read the article?

Keep up the great work! I wonder how many other tv personalities change their names to hide their true identity!

Mrs. Rose (Erin's mom)

Athens MidDay... said...

We hope to post the actual newscasts soon, but right now, you can only see the TV story on the Athens MidDay newscast which airs Mon-Thurs at noon on Time-Warner cable channel 25 in Athens County.

And as to your question about tv personalities, many actors change their names, but most journalists use their own name. If they use a different name on-air, it's usually a shorter, simpler name.

Thanks for your comment.

Mary T. Rogus
Athens MidDay Executive Producer