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OH: Supreme Court upholds sex offender registration laws, rejecting cruel and unusual punishment argument

COLUMBUS, Ohio — State laws requiring that certain sex offenders register with local authorities and verify their address every six months for 25 years do not constitute cruel and unusual punishment, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The case involved a 21-year-old defendant, Travis Blankenship, who pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual conduct with a minor between 13 and 16 years old, a fourth-degree felony. He challenged the constitutionality of the sentence requirement that he register with the local sheriff and report every six months for the next 25 years. But in a 5-2 decision, the court disagreed. Full Article

Related

Sex-Offender Registration and Notification Mandates Are Constitutional, Analysis from Court News Ohio

OH: Supreme Court – When Is a Sex Offender Not a Sex Offender?, CA RSOL

Ohio Supreme Court Decision

Oral Argument

Join the discussion

  1. Never Quit

    In dissent, Judge O’Neill of the Ohio Supreme Court, writes:

    {¶ 87} For offenders like Blankenship, these registration requirements guarantee an unnecessarily long term of public humiliation only. And they effectively destroy any hope of leading a successful and productive life from that point forward. This mandatory registration requirement will limit Blankenship’s employability for most jobs, will prevent him from engaging in any meaningful, productive relationship with the community around him, and will essentially label him as a pariah. He will have to lay his shame at the feet of everyone he encounters: employers, neighbors, love interests, friends, co-workers, and others. And for what? The public gains little of value to offset the unusual punishment because it is perfectly clear from this record that Blankenship was psychologically capable of learning his lesson the first time. And the record in this matter reflects that he has learned right from wrong. In that sense, the harsh punishment of sharing his personal information with the world for 25 years is grossly disproportionate to the crime. The mandatory registration requirement applied here, even though consistent with mandatory Ohio law, is constitutionally prohibited as it imposes a cruel and unusual punishment.

    (Judge O’Neill should be nominated for the next open seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, in my opinion)

  2. Joe

    I am confused…. does not the fact that the Ohio Supreme Court considers this case under the 8th Amendment (Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted) – even mentioning this Amendment in this context – cement the fact sex offender registration is, indeed, punishment?

    Furthermore:

    {¶ 21} In analyzing Blankenship’s challenge to the registration requirements imposed on him, we must bear in mind the overriding principle that “[t]he concept of proportionality is central to the Eighth Amendment.” Id. at 59. Thus, the goal of the two-step process described above is to determine whether Blankenship’s punishment is proportionate to his crimes.

    Maybe this is the case that will settle this once and for all. Kind of ‘a small step for man, but a huge leap for mankind’.

    • Kevin

      Yes, in a previous Supreme Court ruling Ohio has determined that sex offender registration IS punishment. Thus, ex post facto, due process, etc all apply. However, in this case the court has determined that registration is not cruel and unusual according to the US and Ohio constitutions.

      • Joe

        Thank you for the clarification. That is indeed the case. My next question, then.

        Ohio is one of the 17 states that are AWA compliant. Was the first to have substantially implemented it, if memory serves. Now, AWA compliance requires a minimum standard of registration that is the same for every state that adopts it.

        How can the same (minimum) standard be considered punishment (while not cruel and unusual, punishment nevertheless) in Ohio but non-punitive and regulatory across the state line in Michigan or Pennsylvania?

        Since this is a Federal law there is a clear discrepancy. Is this not something the SCOTUS would HAVE to review and decide?

        • Kevin

          The AWA standards were written into law at the state level. Thus, it is up to the court system of each individual state to decide if those standards are punitive or not. As such they are not federal laws when applied at the state level for a state conviction. This is similar to age of consent laws that vary state to state.

      • steve

        I believe what they ruled unconstituional was part of the AWA which would have changed peoples tier’s.

        • Joe

          The Ohio Supreme Court decision CLEARLY refers to the registration requirement as punishment (copied and pasted with emphasis added above).

  3. David

    At the very least, it is “unusual punishment” for the very reason that no other group of individuals is being held up for public shame, scorn & ridicule (and threat) by government sanction!! And for lengthy periods of time … 10 years, 25 years, lifetime.
    No other group is subject to such treatment – not drug dealers, prostitues, etc. So how is such treatment NOT unusual??

    • PM111

      The basis for the registry is that all “sex offenders” are at high risk for re-offense, yet the facts regarding recidivism (<1% after three years) suggest otherwise. We need to spread the word that recidivism is ultra-low for the purpose of disavowing their one persistent argument. Consider the fact that all the violent criminals with high re-offense rates are not subject to this punishment and it becomes clear that SOs are simply being singled out for shame.

    • Timmr

      Good point, David. It is unusual and frowned upon (or even made illegal) for other groups to be shamed today. 300 years ago it may have been normal practice, but we have evolved since then to be a kinder, gentler nation. Haven’t we?

  4. Tim E

    All I can say is I die a little more inside today to read this judgement. I am not surprised of this outcome but I was following this case for the chance of hope. God that light at the end of the tunnel seems far away. I am going to eat a metric ton of chocolate.

  5. Never Quit

    ALL registrants, at time of sentencing in their criminal case, are denied “due process” (a violation of the 5th Amendment), to challenge the un-constitutional ‘irrebuttable presumption’ of dangerousness and risk to the community and children in particular (when the offense involves a minor), due strictly and only to the nature of the offense (not an individualized determination of such dangerousness, risk). Any such Irrebuttable presumption has been found to be unconstitutional,(see e.g., Stanley v Illinois, 405 U.S. 645 (1972)). Defendants, after being adjudicated guilty for the alleged offense, are therefore deprived of any opportunity to challenge the justification for the imposition of state-imposed mandatory registration. Defendants (in federal cases at least) are therefore deprived of an ‘individualized sentence’ which is statutorily mandated in the Federal criminal sentencing law (18 USC Sec. 3553(a)(2)). A court may consider such a challenge ONLY when a legal action is brought before them, citing these factors (if an appeal is available to the defendant. Often the prosecutor asks that the defendant waive his right to appeal in exchange for lesser charges or some other inducement).

    In the meantime, to seek and obtain change to our plight, RC’s can involve themselves by, amongst other things: talking with friends and family; seeking the election of legislators who will repeal such absurd laws; signing petitions and working on petition efforts; supporting CARSOL and Janice Bellucci financially as well as attending meetings; writing letters to the editor; commenting on blogs; writing letters to senators, assembly-persons, congressmen, etc. Be active to the extent possible…but you already know this. Never quit.

  6. Stephen

    I’m not shocked by the Outcome, the suit wasn’t an eye opener, and was easy to toss out. people need to start adding Election campaign reasons to their suits. It would be harder to toss out. Drunk Drivers have more Campaigning rights than RSO’s.
    Also when have you ever heard of an RSO serving on a registry Board, remember they claim law is civil and not punitive. Also If were a separate class then our Judge and jury should be from our class. people need to be creative in their suits.

  7. USA

    Well, this judge clearly understands everyone to have some sort of life in the future. California needs to wake up as well. Requiring Registrants who have plead to a misdemeanor to register for life is terrible. California needs a tiered system.

    • steve

      Problem is you can’t argue in front of a court for a tiered system, but we can argue that “lifetime” registration is unconstitutional. I think the facts with Frank being attacked 30 YEARS after the fact are a great argument for this. The legislature, it seems, is in no hurry for a tiered system.

      • j

        you’re right, in many regards, a tiered system will bring relief to some at the expense of others who have paid their debt to society with regard to the law at the time of sentencing.

        The argument that the victim was a child has no bearing on the sentence that was imposed accordingly at the time, then reimposed retroactively many years later.

  8. mike r

    I expected this outcome since the court can now fall back on thus isn’t unusual since its been happening for years. Just as Stephen states we have to think outside the box and challenge that its unreasonable arbitrary oppressive official action it violates equal protection violates right to travel and right to reputation. All these violations requires the court to show cause through statistical data and factual evidence that these laws achieve some legislative purpose and that the laws actually achieve that purpose in which there is no such data or facts and in actuality there are facts and data and evidence that the laws are actually counterproductive to those goals. It’s a no brainer. Please someone with the experience and the means which I don’t have bring these issues before a court. It’s indisputable facts and there’s no way for a court to refute those facts. They could not in anyway say that these laws are justified especially with someone like frank lindsay whose conviction was over thirty years ago.

  9. mike r

    Actually Frank needs to sue the state of CA for monetary damages caused by these laws with a motion for summary judgement which includes a statement of indisputable facts that is required in such a motion. There is no way for a opposing body to dispute that these laws are arbitrary unreasonable oppressive acts by state officials that is causing irreparable harm to Franks personal and professional life.I am going to start working on one myself for myself and I will file it in civil court. You will be hearing more about this process from me in the future. Janice should be well aware of what a motion for summary judgement consist of and how it includes the statement of indisputable facts that the opposing party has to try to refute. There is no rebuttal for these facts so there for it cant lose.

  10. Prometheus

    ‘And the registration requirements do not rise to a level so extreme that they are “grossly disproportionate to the crime or shocking to a reasonable person” needed to constitute cruel and unusual punishment, she wrote.’
    She does not have any idea how being on the registry burdens down a person. For a year one might say no big deal, but like having to hold a spoon out at arm’s length after a few minutes one would also say no big deal; but hold it out for five minutes, ten minutes, then years without end, while the weight feels greater and greater, that spoon becomes the weight of the world in your hand, and is all you can think of after awhile, and you agonize for the day when you will be free of it, small as it appears to others not holding it.
    It is no wonder the ancient Greeks imagined the worst punishment to be reenacting every day the same punishment.

  11. mike r

    I have to research this more but I believe it is unlawful to force an individual or any entity into a contractual agreement through force, under duress, or through coercion such as threats or extortion. This is exactly what the gov. is doing to all of us on the registry. This is thinking way outside the box but it might just be a practical ave. to pursue.

    • Timmr

      Mike r, the contents of the box that is the Constitution were pushed way out of bounds by Roberts in Smith vs. Doe. In my opinion, I am glad you are looking at it this way, reestablishing the bounds to government extremism the Constitution is supposed to contain.

  12. mike r

    Duress in the context of contract law is a common law defence brought about when one of the parties to the contract enjoyed an ascendant position vis-à-vis the other party and abused that position by subjecting the other to threats. A party who has entered into a contract under duress is entitled to rescind or set aside the contract, rendering it voidable (in equity).

    Duress has been defined as a “threat of harm made to compel a person to do something against his or her will or judgment; esp., a wrongful threat made by one person to compel a manifestation of seeming assent by another person to a transaction without real volition”. – Black’s Law Dictionary (8th ed. 2004)

  13. mike r

    I know I’m on to something here. It is fact that everyone of us are being forced into this contract with the state through force and coercion. I’m not exactly sure where this is going but I believe I might be onto something here.
    l
    Coercion

    The intimidation of a victim to compel the individual to do some act against his or her will by the use of psychological pressure, physical force, or threats. The crime of intentionally and unlawfully restraining another’s freedom by threatening to commit a crime, accusing the victim of a crime, disclosing any secret that would seriously impair the victim’s reputation in the community, or by performing or refusing to perform an official action lawfully requested by the victim, or by causing an official to do so.

  14. Kevin

    The two rationale the judges used to determine cruel and unusual punishment are whether the punishment meets the goals it is designed for (pubic safety, decrease re-offense, etc) and whether the punishment is considered “normal”. Firstly, the opinion states that opponents say registration laws do not meet their intended goals yet proponents say that notification increases public safety. The judge immediately sides with the proponents which leads me to believe that little to no effort was made to educate the justices about re-offense data and the negative community impact of registration laws. Secondly, the opinion states that registration is normal and not unusual because all 50 states have registration laws. Obviously, no one informed the justices that in the 1990s most states did not have registries and only because of the federal government’s use of bribery with federal funds did the states enact registration laws. Furthermore, no one informed the justices that SORNA has not been successfully implemented across the US because most states have realized that bowing down to the federal government in exchange for money is not in their best interest any longer. In addition, how many countries around the world have public registries? How many countries would consider registration a violation of human rights? I assume this was never discussed either.

    It is clear to me that these cases are only hurting our movement due to poor legal representation. There’s no doubt that this ruling is incorrect, but getting it back in front of the court will be nearly impossible.

  15. mike r

    Your right Kevin its almost as if these attorneys are purposely under litigating these cases on purpose. Every win for the gov does indeed make it that much more difficult to overturn.

  16. HOOKSCAR

    Well, looking at the glass half full, if another state supreme court rules that it is punitive and unconstitutional, this would cause a split in the rulings and SCOTUS will have to revisit. Do I understand that right?

    • New Person

      Except all those cases which deem it punitive only attacks the state’s legislature, not Federal. They’re purposely trying to avoid taking it to the federal level. Why? Because they’re afraid of the Feds.

      There are cases in Alaska and Oklahoma that already utilize the ex facto laws, deeming it punitive. But it only attacks it at the state level.

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