The Ohio Supreme Court has held that the penalty provisions for failure to comply with the sex offender registry statute in place immediately prior to the repeal of Megan’s Law by the Adam Walsh Act applies to the penalty for sex offenders originally classified under Megan’s Law who violate the law by failing to give proper notice of an address change.
The case is State v. Howard, Slip Opinion No. 2012-Ohio-5738.
In 2000, the Defendant was convicted of rape, a first-degree felony, and sentenced to four years in prison. He was designated a habitual sex offender pursuant to Ohio’s Megan’s Law. Howard was required to verify his address on an annual basis and to notify the sheriff of any change of address.
Violation of Megan’s Law was a fifth-degree felony, punishable by up to 12 months in prison.
In 2003, Megan’s Law was changed. One change in the law was an increase in the punishment for failure to comply with the registration requirements to a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.
In 2007, Ohio passed its version of the Adam Walsh Act (“AWA”), which repealed Megan’s Law. The Defendant was reclassified by the Ohio Attorney General as a Tier III sex offender. The Adam Walsh Act made the defendant’s failure to comply a first-degree felony, punishable by up to ten years in prison.
In 2010, the Ohio Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the reclassification provisions of the Adam Walsh Act. State v. Bodyke, 126 Ohio St.3d 266 (2010). As a result of this decision, for offenders like the Defendant, the original classification and requirements under Megan’s Law were restored.
The Defendant admitted that he did not comply with the provisions of Megan’s Law. Thus, the only issue for the court was which penalty provision, either Megan’s Law or the Adam Walsh Act, applies.
This decision has big implications, as it applies to numerous offenders originally classified under Megan’s Law who commit violations of notice-of-address-change requirements after the effective date of the Adam Walsh Act.
The court explained the current state of the law:
Ohio has, in effect, separate statutory schemes governing sex offenders depending on when they committed their underlying offense. Those who committed their offense before the effective date of the Adam Walsh Act are subject to the provisions of Megan’s Law; those who committed their offense after the effective date of the Adam Walsh Act are subject to the Adam Walsh Act.
The court emphasized that the penalty provision in the Adam Walsh Act “remains in full vigor for those to whom it applies . . .” However, these penalty provisions do not “reach back” to cover offenders who were sentenced and classified as sex offenders under Megan’s Law.
One caveat: the court held that the appropriate penalty is under the amended Megan’s Law, not the version of Megan’s Law in effect when the offender was originally classified. The court rejected arguments that this would violate the Retroactivity Clause of the Ohio Constitution and the Ex Post Facto Clause of the United States Constitution. The court explained that the “imposition of . . . . penalties does not create an increased penalty for [a defendant’s]original sex offense, but rather imposes a penalty related entirely to his later, separate violation of [Megan’s Law], a new crime. That is, the penalty is not an increased penalty for his original sex offense, but rather a penalty for a new offense.”