Ohio’s old system of sex offender classification, determining whether or not and how often convicted sex offenders must report to local law enforcement, was far from perfect but did rely in large part on how likely an offender was to re-offend. Such laws were challenged in the past because of their punitive nature and their retroactivity. However, those challenges have been largely unsuccessful. Ohio adopted a state version of the federal Adam Walsh Act at the urging of the federal government. The new law scrapped Ohio’s old classification system (known as Megan’s Law) and replaced it with a stricter system that does not take into account offenders’ likelihood to re-offend and applies even to offenders whose reporting requirements ended before passage of the new law. We are litigating a number of cases arising under the Adam Walsh Act.
The Ohio Supreme Court accepted several test cases on the Adam Walsh Act. Details on these cases can be found below.
In June 2010, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in State v. Bodyke that individuals who were classified by a court under the old Megan’s Law could not be reclassified under the new Adam Walsh Act. However, the Court’s decision in Bodyke still leaves many unanswered questions that are being pursued in other test cases. Unfortunately, this leaves many cases in limbo.
On July 13, 2011 the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in State v. Williams that the new registration requirements of the Ohio Adam Walsh Act are punitive because they impose additional burdens or obligations on individuals who committed an offense before the passage of the law, thus violating the Ohio Constitution’s Retroactivity Clause that prohibits imposing greater punishment after the fact. This was a huge victory, because prior sex offender registration and notification laws, including Megan’s Law, had been upheld by the Court as not being punitive. The Williams decision was 5-2.
Mr. Williams’ case falls within one of the many unanswered questions left in the wake of the Court’s decision in Bodyke. Williams’ offense occurred in 2007 while the old Megan’s Law was still in effect, but he was sentenced in 2008 when Adam Walsh had become law. The question before the court is which law applies. The Retroactivity Clause of the Ohio Constitution and the Ex Post Facto Clause of the US Constitution prohibit retroactive application of a law that is punitive, or that retroactively increases the punishment for a past act. We believe that retroactive application of Adam Walsh is constitutionally prohibited, and that Williams should be sentenced under the law that was in effect on the date of his offense.
Williams was charged on Nov. 13, 2007, with one count of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor (he was age 19 and his girlfriend was age 14). On Dec. 14, 2007, Williams pled guilty. Williams filed a motion on Jan. 25, 2008, to be sentenced under the old law that was in effect on the date of his offense. The trial court denied that motion and sentenced Williams under the new Adam Walsh law. The court of appeals affirmed.
Williams filed his notice of appeal in January 2009. The Court accepted jurisdiction of the appeal in April 2009 and stayed the case pending a decision in Bodyke. On July 22, 2010, the Court lifted the stay and ordered a briefing schedule. Williams filed his merit brief on Oct. 4, 2010. We filed an amicus brief in support of Williams the same day, as did the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center. The State filed their brief Nov. 17, 2010. Amici in support of the State were filed by the Franklin County Prosecutor on Nov. 17 and the Ohio Attorney General on Nov. 22, 2010. Williams' reply was filed Dec. 6, 2010. The Ohio Supreme Court heard oral argument March 1, 2011.
The Court issued its decision on July 13, 2011. It found the registration requirements of the Ohio Adam Walsh Act are punitive because they impose new burdens or obligations on individuals who committed an offense before the passage of the law, thus violating the Ohio Constitution's Retroactivity Clause that prohibits imposing greater punishment after the fact. This was a huge victory, because prior sex offender registration and notification laws, including Megan's Law, had been upheld by the Court as not being punitive. The Williams decision was 5-2. On July 25, the State and Ohio Attorney General filed a joint motion for reconsideration and/or clarification. Williams' brief in opposition to the state's motion was filed July 27, 2011. The Ohio Supreme Court denied the State's motion on September 21, 2011.