On Tuesday, July 17, 2012, the Supreme Court of Ohio launched an expanded news program – Court News Ohio – that features stories about the Ohio judicial system. This archived page on the Supreme Court’s website only displays case summaries that occurred before that date. Cases that were summarized on July 17 and thereafter can be found at www.courtnewsohio.gov.

Upcoming Cases

Retroactive Application of Adam Walsh Act to Offenders Whose Crimes Predate Law's Enactment Unconstitutional

Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion released by the Court, but only for those cases considered noteworthy or of great public interest. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of Court opinions. The full text of this and other Court opinions from 1992 to the present are available online from the Reporter of Decisions. In the Full Text search box, enter the eight-digit case number at the top of this summary and click "Submit."

2009-0088.  State v. Williams, Slip Opinion No. 2011-Ohio-3374.
Warren App. No. CA2008-02-029, 2008-Ohio-6195.  Judgment of the court of appeals reversed, and cause remanded to the trial court.
O'Connor, C.J., and Pfeifer, Lundberg Stratton, Lanzinger, and McGee Brown, JJ., concur.
O'Donnell and Cupp, JJ., dissent.
Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2011/2011-Ohio-3374.pdf

Video clip View oral argument video of this case.

(July 13, 2011) The Supreme Court of Ohio ruled today that imposing enhanced sex offender registration and community notification requirements included in the 2007 Ohio Adam Walsh Act (AWA) against defendants whose crimes were committed before the effective date of that law violates Section 28, Article II of the Ohio Constitution, which prohibits the General Assembly from enacting retroactive laws.

Today’s 5-2 decision, which reversed a ruling by the 12th District Court of Appeals, was authored by Justice Paul E. Pfeifer.

When the General Assembly adopted the AWA by enacting 2007 S.B. 10, it included statutory language requiring that, regardless of the date on which a defendant’s crime was committed, state courts sentencing sex offenders on or after July 1, 2007 must apply a new three-tiered AWA offender classification scheme and must include in the defendant’s sentence registration and community notification requirements set forth in the AWA that are more severe than similar provisions in the prior, Megan’s Law, version of the statute.

George Williams of Warren County was convicted in December 2007 for engaging in sexual conduct with a minor. The conduct on which that conviction was based took place prior to July 2007.  Prior to his sentencing hearing, Williams entered a motion asking the trial court to sentence him under the Megan’s Law sex offender classification scheme that was in effect on the date of his offense, rather than under the AWA classification scheme. The trial court overruled Williams’ motion. Pursuant to the AWA he was classified as a Tier II offender, which required him to register with the sheriff in his county of residence, and in any other county in which he worked or attended school, every 180 days for the next 25 years.

Williams appealed, arguing that the retroactive application of the AWA registration requirements to his offense violated the ex post facto, due process and double jeopardy clauses of the U.S. Constitution and the retroactivity clause of the Ohio Constitution. The 12th District Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s classification of Williams under the AWA as constitutional. The Supreme Court agreed to review the 12th District’s decision.

Writing for the majority, Justice Pfeifer noted that in several prior decisions analyzing pre-2007 versions of R.C. Chapter 2950, including State v. Cook (1998), State v. Wilson (2007) and State v. Ferguson (2008), this Court held that the registration and community notification requirements imposed by the statute were remedial rather than punitive in nature,  and therefore did not implicate the constitutional prohibition against laws that retroactively increase the punishment for a crime after it has been committed.

He also noted, however, that a dissent to the Ferguson decision entered by Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger identified a number of changes to the former statute that had been adopted by the legislature in 2003 that had significantly increased the negative impact of the registration and notification requirements on offenders.  In that dissent, Justice Lanzinger stated “I do not believe that we can continue to label these proceedings as civil in nature. These restraints on liberty are the consequences of specific criminal convictions and should be recognized as part of the punishment that is imposed as a result of the offender's actions.”

Citing a number of additional changes to the 2003 statute that were included in 2007 S.B. 10, the  legislation  enacting the AWA, Justice Pfeifer wrote: “Following the enactment of S.B. 10, all doubt has been removed:  R.C. Chapter 2950 is punitive. The statutory scheme has changed dramatically since this court described (in Cook) the registration process imposed on sex offenders as an inconvenience ‘comparable to renewing a driver’s license.’  ... And it has changed markedly since this court concluded in Ferguson that R.C. Chapter 2950 was remedial.”

“Under the statutory scheme in effect at the time Williams committed the offense, he was entitled to a hearing at which a court would determine whether he should be classified as a sexual predator, a habitual sex offender or a habitual child-victim offender, or a sexually oriented offender.  The court would have considered various statutory factors in making its determination. ... Under S.B. 10, Williams is classified as a Tier II sex offender based solely on the offense he committed, without regard to the circumstances of the crime or his likelihood to reoffend.”

“Under S.B. 5, Williams might not have been subject to registration requirements. The trial court twice informed Williams that he would not be required to register as a sex offender.  Under S.B. 10, based on his classification as a Tier II sex offender, Williams is automatically subject to registration requirements that obligate him to register in person in the county where he resides, in the county where he works, and in the county where he attends school.  ... Under S.B. 5, Williams could have been required to register as a sex offender for a period of ten years.  Based upon comments made by the judge when Williams entered his plea, he likely would not have been required to register.  Under S.B. 10, Williams is required to register as a sex offender for 25 years.”

“Sex offenders are no longer allowed to challenge their classification as a sex offender because classification is automatic depending on the offense. Judges no longer review the sex-offender classification. In general, sex offenders are required to register more often and for a longer period of time. They are required to register in person and in several different places. ... Furthermore, all of the registration requirements apply without regard to the future dangerousness of the sex offender.  Instead, registration requirements and other requirements are based solely on the fact of a conviction.  

“Based on these significant changes to the statutory scheme governing sex offenders, we are no longer convinced that R.C. Chapter 2950 is remedial, even though some elements of it remain remedial.  We conclude that as to a sex offender whose crime was committed prior to the enactment of S.B. 10, the act ‘imposes new or additional burdens, duties, obligations, or liabilities as to a past transaction,’ ... and ‘create[s] new burdens, new duties, new obligations, or new liabilities not existing at the time ... ’ 

“The General Assembly has the authority, indeed the obligation, to protect the public from sex offenders. It may not, however, consistent with the Ohio Constitution, ‘impose[] new or additional burdens, duties, obligations, or liabilities as to a past transaction.’  If the registration requirements of S.B. 10 are imposed on Williams, the General Assembly has imposed new or additional burdens, duties, obligations, or liabilities as to a past transaction. We conclude that S.B. 10, as applied to Williams and any other sex offender who committed an offense prior to the enactment of S.B. 10, violates Section 28, Article II of the Ohio Constitution, which prohibits the General Assembly from enacting retroactive laws. We reverse the judgment of the court of appeals and remand the cause for resentencing under the law in effect at the time Williams committed the offense.”

Justice Pfeifer’s opinion was joined by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, Judith Ann Lanzinger and Yvette McGee Brown.

Justice Terrence O’Donnell entered a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Robert R. Cupp, in which he cited a line of prior decisions in which the Supreme Court has consistently held that sex offender registration and community notification requirements imposed by previous versions of R.C. Chapter 2950 are not criminal sanctions intended to punish offenders − and are therefore not barred by the Constitution from retroactive application. 

He wrote: “The Ohio General Assembly has adopted legislation in accordance with legislation enacted by the United States Congress in an effort to create a national, uniform system of sex-offender registration. Our long-standing precedent recognizes the legislature’s authority to make policy decisions for reasons of public safety and public welfare. Moreover, having considered the constitutionality of prior sex-offender-registration statutes, this court has consistently held both that those statutes constitute a civil regulatory scheme designed to protect the public from known sex offenders and that the statutes may be retroactively applied to individuals who have committed sexually oriented offenses in the past.” 

Justice O’Donnell observed that “every federal circuit court of appeals to consider whether the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), passed by Congress as part of the federal Adam Walsh Act, is constitutional has held that it may be retroactively applied to sex offenders who committed sex offenses prior to its enactment. ... [W]hether a comprehensive registration regime targeting only sex offenders is penal ... is not an open question.”

Justice O’Donnell concluded that, in his view, “S.B. 10 does not substantially depart from prior statutory enactments upheld by this court, and today’s majority decision that it violates the Retroactivity Clause is not only out of sync with our prior precedent, but also with precedent in every federal circuit court of appeals that has addressed similar sex-offender-registration requirements.”

Michael Greer, 513.695.1325, for the state and Warren County prosecutor's office.

Katherine A. Szudy, 614.466.5394, for George Williams.

Alexandra Schimmer, 614.995.2273, for the Ohio Attorney General's Office.