January 1, 2008

Tuesday,  January 1, 2008 3:10 AM
Starting today, more Ohio felons will be classified as sexual predators under a federal law that also requires that the public be notified of offenders' addresses.


Ohio judges and sheriffs say they are bracing for legal challenges from sex offenders, who now will classified under a three-tier federal system named for Adam Walsh, a 6-year-old Florida boy who was abducted and murdered in 1981.

At least one legal challenge to the new law was filed in Franklin County Common Pleas Court before Christmas, and similar challenges have been filed in Shelby County and with the Ohio Supreme Court.

States have until July 27, 2009, to comply with the law or lose federal funding. President Bush signed the act in 2006.

Gov. Ted Strickland signed the law into effect in Ohio in June. There are about 23,000 registered sex offenders in Ohio. There were eight classifications.

The new law requires longer registration times for felons and mandatory community notification for some once considered low-level offenders. In Ohio, sheriffs will oversee the registration process.

"The Ohio attorney general's office started notifying all registrants in the state of Ohio that they will be reclassified. Whatever the courts tell us to do, we will do," said Chief Deputy Steve Martin of the Franklin County sheriff's office.

Two new detectives were hired and a car and equipment were purchased at an annual cost of $216,000 to handle the county's caseload, Martin said. They join two secretaries and three detectives on an existing unit that does nothing but register sex offenders and arrest scofflaws.

The names of Franklin County sex offenders and their addresses can be found online at .

The Ohio Public Defender's office, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Ohio Justice and Policy Center oppose the law, saying that it is unconstitutional to retroactively apply longer registration times.

The Ohio Supreme Court rejected a challenge by all three groups last month.

Common Pleas Judge David E. Cain issued a restraining order Dec. 21 to prevent Sheriff Jim Karnes from notifying the neighbors of one convicted sex offender who was reclassified under the new law.

That man, who filed a challenge in Franklin County over the new law, was convicted of sexual battery nearly 10 years ago, was given probation rather than prison and has had no subsequent convictions. But sexual battery now is classified as a Tier 3 felony -- the highest level under the new law -- and will require the man to register his address for life.

"We had the same challenges when Megan's Law took effect, and I wanted to hold the status quo until we could have a hearing," Cain said yesterday. "It's a mess created by politicians, and it's going to be a mess for the courts to sort out."

Tier 1 offenders, formerly known as sexually oriented offenders, would be required to register for 15 years, as opposed to 10 years under the old law.

Tier 2 offenders, formerly known as habitual sex offenders, will be required to register for 25 years instead of 20.

And sheriffs are required to notify the community of the location of all Tier 3 offenders, formerly known as sexual predators, for crimes including rape and murder with a sexual motivation.

Martin said the law creates about 500 more Tier 3 offenders in Franklin County.

The county contracts with a Louisiana company that mails postcards to homeowners, schools and day-care centers near where Tier 3 sex offenders live.

"This is going to increase the workload of sheriffs by 60 percent because 60 percent of the low-level registered offenders now have been put into the highest tier," said Robert Cornwell, executive director of the Buckeye State Sheriffs' Association.

"We didn't fight it because we understand the greater need to know by the community," Cornwell said.