February 20, 2008

Ohio sex offender law not retroactive, justices rule

If there's one legal issue that may trump sex offender hysteria, it's the rights of property owners. So, what happens when those two issues collide head-on, as in the case of retroactive residency restrictions against property-owning sex offenders?

That's what the Ohio Supreme Court tackled today, in the case of Hyle v. Porter.

Appellant Gerry Porter Jr. and his wife bought their home in Cincinnati in 1991. Shortly thereafter, Porter was convicted of two sex offenses (sexual imposition and sexual battery). Some years later, in 2003, the state legislature passed its law forbidding convicted sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school. The city attorney ordered Porter out of his home. A trial court approved the order, and an appellate court agreed.

With one justice dissenting, the state Supreme Court held today that the residency law is not retroactive because its text does not specifically say that it is. The justices thereby sidestepped the more sticky issue of whether such a law, if expressly made retroactive by the legislature, would violate the Ohio Constitution's prohibition against retroactive laws that infringe on an individual's substantive rights, such as property rights.

Commenting on today's decision, the law profs over at Sentencing Law & Policy note that the Court "essentially kicked this hot-potato issue over to the Ohio state legislature. It will be VERY interesting to see how the Ohio legislature responds, especially since the defendant here is asserting property rights that can often change the usual political dynamics that surround crime and punishment debates."

The full opinion is here; a summary is here. The Sex Crimes blog has additional commentary.

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