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Community Notification Exception Applies to Sex Offenders Notified of Status After Jan. 1, 2008

2009-0893.  State v. McConville, Slip Opinion No. 2010-Ohio-958.
Lorain App. No. 08CA009444, 182 Ohio App.3d 99, 2009-Ohio-1713.  Judgment of the court of appeals affirmed.
Moyer, C.J., and Pfeifer, Lundberg Stratton, O'Connor, O'Donnell, Lanzinger, and Cupp, JJ., concur.
Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2010/2010-Ohio-958.pdf

Video clip View oral argument video of this case.

(March 18, 2010) The Supreme Court of Ohio ruled today that an exception to the community notification requirement for Tier III sex offenders set forth in current R.C. 2950.11(B)(2) applies to offenders who were first notified of their classification after Am Sub. S.B. 10 took effect on Jan. 1, 2008.

The Court’s 7-0 decision, authored by  Justice Robert R. Cupp, affirmed rulings by the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas and 9th District Court of Appeals.

Effective Jan. 1, 2008, the General Assembly amended Ohio’s former sex offender classification scheme by adopting a new set of classifications based solely on the crime for which an offender was convicted.  In the legislation adopting the new classification scheme, Am Sub. S.B. 10, the General Assembly included general provisions requiring that adults convicted of Tier III sex offenses and certain child sex offenders must register every 90 days for life with the sheriff in any county where the offender lives, works or attends school. The statute also requires sheriffs to provide notification including the residence and work addresses and a photo of the offender to specified parties in the surrounding community, including neighbors and nearby schools, day care centers, and victims of past sex crimes.  

The legislation also included a provision, R.C. 2950.11(F)(2), stating that the community notification requirement for Tier III offenders “does not apply” to an offender if a court finds at a hearing, after considering 11 specific criteria set forth in that section, “that the person would not be subject to the notification provisions of this section that were in the version of this section that existed immediately prior to the effective date of this amendment.”

In this case, Stephen McConville pleaded guilty in July 2008 to rape and gross sexual imposition.  At sentencing, McConville  was notified that he would be classified as a Tier III sexual offender under the classification system established by S.B. 10.  The trial court advised McConville of his  registration and reporting duties pertaining to the Tier III classification. The court then conducted a second hearing for further review of the community-notification requirement.  After considering the statutory factors set forth in R.C. 2950.11(F)(2), the trial court determined that McConville was “unlikely to commit a sexually oriented offense in the future, and that suspending the community notification requirements of R.C. 2950.11(F)(1) [was] in the interest of justice.” 

The state appealed, arguing that the exception to community notification set forth in R.C. 2950.11(F)(2) was intended to apply only to persons who had been classified under the pre-2008 sex offender statute in a category that did not require community notification, but who were subsequently reclassified as Tier III offenders under the provisions of S.B. 10. The 9th District Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s holding that R.C. 2950.11(F)(2) was applicable to offenders like McConville who were notified of their classification after Jan. 1, 2008. The state sought and was granted Supreme Court review of the 9th District’s decision.

In today’s unanimous decision, Justice Cupp wrote: “R.C. 2950.11(F)(2) provides: ‘The notification provisions of this section do not apply to a person described in division (F)(1)(a), (b), or (c) of this section if a court finds at a hearing after considering the factors described in this division that the person would not be subject to the notification provisions of this section that were in the version of this section that existed immediately prior to the effective date of this amendment.’ The remainder of the statute details the 11 factors the trial court must consider to determine whether the sexual offender would have been subject to community notification under prior law. ... This appeal presents a matter of statutory interpretation.  As a general rule, the words and phrases of a statute will be read in context and construed according to the rules of grammar and common usage. ... Moreover, there is no need for this court to apply the rules of statutory interpretation when the language of a statute is plain and unambiguous and conveys a clear and definite meaning.”

“The state’s argument is that R.C. 2950.11(F)(2) gives the trial court the discretion to suspend the community-notification requirement in consideration of the statute’s limiting factors only when the sexual offender’s status was previously determined under the law in effect prior to Senate Bill 10. ... We find that the language of R.C. 2950.11(F) is unambiguous. Accordingly, we do not find the state’s argument persuasive. The language used in the statue pertains to those sexual offenders whose status is determined after the effective date of R.C. 2950.11 as amended by Senate Bill 10.  The provision is written in the present tense, referring to a ‘hearing’ at which a judge ‘finds’ certain facts. The 11 factors of R.C. 2950.11(F)(2) are similarly written in the present tense, indicating an evaluation presently taking place, and not one that has already occurred.  In contrast to the state’s position, the language of the statue does not indicate that it applies only to those sexual offenders whose status had been previously determined under the provisions of former R.C. Chapter 2950. As a result, we decline to interpret the statute when no interpretation is required.”

Billie Jo Belcher, 440.329.5458, for the state and Lorain County prosecutor’s office.

John M. Prusak, 440.244.2434, for Stephen McConville.

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