A recent federal court order means neighbors of some convicted sex offenders will be left in the dark.
A Feb. 6 order by a judge from the U.S. District Court for Northern Ohio will essentially allow the most serious sexual offenders convicted before Jan. 1 to move in next door to you and your family with nonotification.
The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act became law Jan. 1. To comply with the act, the Ohio General Assembly passed Senate Bill 10 in July.The law requires stricter rules for sex offenders and child abductors.
Reporting requirements based on sex offenders' convictions were changed. Tier one offenders must now register for 15 years as sex offenders, tier two for 25 years and tier three --which includes the most serious predators -- for life.
The law is being challenged on the grounds itviolates the Ohio Constitution and U.S. Constitution because it changes a defendant's sex offender status and reporting requirements without any hearing, without any regard for prior court decisions and without due process.
"People are looking at whether or not the retro-activity of the law is constitutional or not," Erie County Common Pleas Court Judge Tygh Tone said.
The federal court order was negotiated by theparties involved in the challenge after Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann opposed a plaintiff's motion for a temporary restraining order that could have caused some offenders to drop off the registry, according to a news release from Dann's office.
The court order suspends community notification for sex offenders who were reclassified into tier three and convicted prior to Jan. 1.
Community notification is a protocol that notifies neighbors and schools via mail when the most serious predators move into their neighborhoods, said Capt. Steven Westcott, of the Erie County Sheriff's office. Anyone living with 1,000 feet of that offender is notified, he said.
The new ruling will affect 54 offenders living in Erie County. There are more than 150 registered sex offenders in the county, Westcott said.
Although the community notification is suspended, people can still get information about sex offenders in their area. The best way to be notified is to sign up for e-mail alerts, Westcott said. That can be done at the county Web site, http://ohio.esorn.net/erie, or at the Ohio Attorney general's Web site http://www.esorn.ag.state.oh.us/secured/p21_2.aspx.
The court order also leaves the window open for sex offenders to petition their reclassification. More than two dozen sex offenders in Erie County have already petitioned that portion of the law.
No decisions have been made on those cases yet, pending a ruling by a higher court, Tone said, adding it's not uncommon for new laws to see backlash once enforcement begins.
"New laws are enacted, but how we apply those new laws has yet to be determined," he said.
This most recent order could be subject to change as the lawsuit, "John Doe vs. Marc Dann," is still pending in federal court, said Mary Ann Barylski, Erie County assistant prosecutor.