Thursday, August 14, 2008

OH County Judge Finds AWA Unconstitutional Richland County judge finds Ohio sex offender law unconstitutional

MANSFIELD : Richland County Common Pleas Judge James DeWeese found in favor of the Mansfield man’s appeal Monday, ruling that retroactive reclassifications are unconstitutional in the state of Ohio.

According to James Mayer III, Sigler’s latest attorney, DeWeese is one of the state’s first judges to issue a ruling among hundreds of appeals filed since the Ohio Attorney General’s office reclassified all sexual offenders.

Under the mandate of the Adam Walsh Act, states must fully comply by July 2009 or face a 10 percent cut to their share of federal grant funds used to fight crime — funding that suffered a 67-percent cut in 2007.

Mayer believes other defense attorneys across Ohio will use DeWeese’s ruling in arguing for their own clients.

In reclassifying him under the new law, the Ohio attorney general considered only the level of crime he pleaded to, rather than actual details, Mayer said.

The retroactive reclassification to Tier III meant Sigler would have to register with the sheriff’s department every 90 days for the rest of his life, instead of once a year for 10 years — or face felony charges. It also meant the Richland County Sheriff’s Department would mail notification cards to every address within a mile of Sigler’s residence.

Sigler’s name would be added to a national sex offender registry under the Walsh Act, but that portion of the law was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in Florida last April. Currently, Sigler is identified as a sex offender on a registry kept by the Richland County Sheriff’s office and the state of Ohio.

After his reclassification appeared online early in 2008, coworkers and neighbors looked at him much differently, Sigler said.

In his ruling Monday, DeWeese said it is appropriate to use the new classifications for people convicted in new cases, but it violates the Ohio Constitution to retroactively change a sentence a court previously decided.

In his ruling, the judge noted the Walsh Act has resulted in more than half of the county’s sex offenders being reclassified as Tier III offenders.

Sigler said his classification is a crucial issue.

Tier I, he explained, “means usually that you’ve made one mistake in your life. You made a bad choice. You chose to do something wrong, and you’re paying for it."

Those labeled Tier II are considered habitual offenders, but not necessarily predators.

“I don’t think we’re going to know how this will play out for some time. But I do feel strongly that Judge DeWeese got it right.”