Many people in Alabama are panicking over the revised Alabama SORNA law (which brought the state into Adam Walsh Act federal compliance) which took effect July 1, 2011, which has been covered here over the past few months. Alabama needed only look at recent history with Ohio's battle over the AWA (known in Ohio as SB 10) to see why the law was such a bad idea.
A recent editorial in the Columbus Dispatch explains it quite well (no surprise, I was one of the critics):
Ohio sex offender registry a mess
Supreme Court has twice ruled it unconstitutional
By David Eggert
Four years after Ohio hurried to comply with a federal law by retroactively toughening the reporting and registration requirements for sex offenders, the state could be forgiven for having buyer’s remorse.
Ohio’s law has twice been declared unconstitutional, which opponents had warned would happen.
Thousands of sex offenders have been or will be reclassified — two times.
The funding the state stood to lose if it did not conform — typically hundreds of thousands of dollars a year — has been offset by millions spent complying with the law and defending against thousands of lawsuits.
“It was a colossal boondoggle,” said Jay Macke, an assistant state public defender.
And the issue remains unsettled, despite the Ohio Supreme Court striking down more of the law this month in a decision that could have implications across the country.
In 2007, Ohio adopted the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, part of a broader 2006 federal law named for Adam Walsh, a 6-year-old Florida boy who was abducted and killed in 1981.
It won unanimous approval from the legislature partly because there was a price for not going along – a 10 percent reduction in federal law-enforcement assistance grants. The federal government in 2009 applauded Ohio for becoming the first state to “substantially implement” the sex-offender law, which created a national system for the registration of sex offenders.
Ohio offenders were reclassified into three tiers based on the crime, no longer considering their likelihood of reoffending. They had to register for longer periods and report to authorities more often, and some once considered lower-level offenders were added to the registry for life instead of a decade.
The changes were applied retroactively to 26,000 sex offenders who committed their crimes before the law went into effect in 2008, something critics at the time said was blatantly unconstitutional.
It turns out they were right.
While the Ohio Supreme Court initially declined to step in and block the law from taking effect, it struck down portions of the law in 2010, reverting 19,000 offenders back to their status under Ohio’s previous sex-offender statute, Megan’s Law.
Then, about 7,000 offenders benefited from a major ruling this month that said the law could not change their punishment after the fact.
“When we name laws after people, it’s usually a mistake,” said Jeff Gamso, former legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio who has fought Ohio’s retroactive sex-offender law. “ They’re driven by immediate passions and not by a whole lot of attention to what makes sense.”
Ohio, he said, has a lot of work ahead in deciding how to handle the fallout from the latest Supreme Court decision.
It is a crime for sex offenders to fail to register and verify their whereabouts. But some still listed on the registry would have come off by now under Megan’s Law, or possibly would not have had to register in the first place.
What if they were jailed for not registering or checking in with authorities under an unconstitutional law?
“The years of confusion continue,” Gamso said.
Attorney General Mike DeWine has another concern — making sure sex offenders affected by the latest ruling still have to sign up for the registry. His office began meeting with lawmakers last week to discuss their status.
DeWine said he is not sure yet whether new legislation will be needed.
“The court has told us what we can’t do, which we accept,” he said. “What we need to make sure is if they are still covered under the previous law.
“We have a duty to look at this and make sure we get it right.”
Sex offender George Williams of Cincinnati — one of thousands to challenge Ohio’s law — won the latest legal fight in the state’s high court. Now 23, he pleaded guilty to having unlawful sexual conduct with his 14-year-old girlfriend when he was 19.
For critics, Williams is the poster child for what is wrong with the sex-offender registry.
At the time of the crime, he likely would have been labeled a sexually oriented offender and been required to register for 10 years. However, under the Adam Walsh Act provisions, he was subject to 25 years.
Williams was sentenced to two months of jail and three years of community control, similar to probation. He and the victim had a child together, and she and her family wanted him to have contact with the child.
“If I have some predator living near me, I’d like to know that. But does this really get it done?” asked Franklin County Common Pleas Judge David E. Cain.
He questioned whether the public is served by a registry with tens of thousands of offenders on it. Tougher reporting requirements and more restrictions on where offenders can live make it more likely they will not comply and leave their whereabouts unknown, he said.
“I’m not sure it ever had a chance of doing what (legislators) intended, to make the state safer from sexual offenders,” Cain said. “They have the right intentions, but they don’t always think them out too well.”