Registry alerts residents to sexual offenders

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 11, 2003

This year, Ohio's sexual offender registration law will be 6 years old.

The law requires the sheriff's office of each county to maintain a registry of people living in or moving to their county who have been convicted of various crimes against a minor, people who have been convicted of sexually violent crimes, and people are deemed by the courts to be a sexually violent predator.

"If the person is found guilty of a felonious assault, and that crime was committed to satisfy

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the sexual needs of the offender, that person may also be considered a sexual offender," Lawrence County Sheriff Tim Sexton said.

The law also allows concerned citizens to view the county's sexual offender registry, if they wish to determine if such a person is living in their neighborhood. In some cases, the law also requires the sheriff's office to notify people that an offender is living or will be moving to their neighborhood.

There are 36 adults living in Lawrence County who have been deemed by the courts to be adult sexual-oriented offenders. Three of them are females.

Lawrence County Common Pleas Court Judge Richard Walton said that when a person is found guilty to these crimes, a hearing is scheduled to determine if that person should be required to register as a sexual offender, and if community notification should be made.

"There has to be a strong probability that (the crime) will happen again," Walton said. "And, sometimes, it does."

Once a convicted sexual offender subject is released into the community, he or she is required to notify the sheriff's office of the county in which he or she will be living, and notify them thereafter of any address change. If they fail to register or notify authorities of any address changes, the offender could be charged with a felony crime, punishable by up to 12 months in prison.

The law also requires each sheriff's office to conduct annual verification checks of the information the offender provides them.

"In our office, we do try to go above and beyond what is required in the law and verify more than once a year," Sexton said.

If the sexual offender is subject to community notification, the sheriff's office must alert all residents who will be living within 1,000 feet of the offender's place of residence, the school officials in the district where the person will live, and any day care centers within a mile of the sexual offender's residence.

In Lawrence County, there are currently no offenders who are listed as adult sexual predators and are subject to community notification. Sexton said one man who did move to Lawrence County in October 2002 and who was subject to the notification has since moved to Kentucky.

Sexton said when he sent out notification that this man had moved to Lawrence County, he received a number of requests from local residents who wanted to view the county's sexual offender registry.

"We had 70 to 80 people come in then (and ask to see the registry)," Sexton said. "I think it gives people an opportunity to come, if they're interested in knowing who is in their neighborhood. It's information they're entitled to. I'm supportive of it."

The registry officer is available from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Sexton said in 2002, the state began notification and registration for juvenile sexual offenders over the age of 14. The original law in 1996 did not address the issue of juvenile offenders.

Sexton said he would like to see his office develop a Web site where people could access information via the Internet. He would also like to see the state or federal government provide money to pay the salary of a full-time sexual registry official.

"It could ease the burden on our budget," Sexton said.

Currently, deputies perform the verification checks in addition to their other responsibilities such as road patrol and criminal investigations.

Ohio's law is a response to a similar one in New Jersey that was named for Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old girl who was raped and killed in 1994 by a child molester who had moved to her neighborhood.

Her parents, who lobbied for the law that now bears her name, contended they could have better protected their daughter if they had known the criminal past of the neighbor who killed their child.

Three categories of sexual offenders

The Ohio Sex Offender Registration and Notification (SORN) law requires all convicted sex offenders or those who have pleaded guilty, to register with their local sheriff's office. All sex offenders are classified by their sentencing judge into one of three categories:

Sexual predator -- Convicted of or pleaded guilty to committing

a sexually oriented offense, and who is likely in the future to commit additional sexually oriented offenses. Subject to community notification.

Habitual sex offender -- Convicted of or pleaded guilty to a sexually oriented offense, and who previously has been convicted of or pleaded guilty to one or more sexually oriented offenses. Habitual sex offenders are not, by law, subject to community notification. However, a sentencing judge may determine that they be subject to community notification.

Sexually oriented offender -- Convicted of or pleaded guilty to, committing a sexually oriented offense, but who has not been designated as a sexual predator or habitual sex offender. Not subject to community notification.