Monday, December 25, 2000

Sex predator hearings ordered

Judge must decide inmates' status

The Associated Press

        CLEVELAND — Prosecutors have won a court order requiring a judge to hold hearings to determine whether several inmates should be classified as sexual predators.

        Judge Burt Griffin of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court has refused to have hearings for inmates sentenced before the law took effect. He has said the proceedings would be unconstitutional.

        But the 8th Ohio District Court of Appeals disagreed in a ruling this week. The court ordered Griffin to hold hearings in 14 cases or rule that the defendants do not fit the sex offender classifications without holding a hearing.

        Judge Griffin would not comment on the order. He said he had not seen it and that it probably would be appealed.

        People convicted of certain sexually oriented crimes under Ohio's sexual predator law are automatically classified as sexual predators, habitual sex offenders or sexually oriented offenders. But people convicted or sentenced before the law took effect must be given a hearing before being labeled.

        Judge Griffin has ruled since 1997 that the hearings would violate an inmate's constitutional rights to due process. He also has said it would be a violation of the separation of powers by forcing him to perform duties outside his role as a judge.

        He believes prison officials — not a judge — should do the background investigations needed to determine whether an inmate should be labeled as a sexual pred ator or sexual offender.

        Several appeals have been filed over the law, modeled after New Jersey's Megan's Law enacted after 7-year-old Megan Kanka was raped and killed by a convicted sex offender living across the street.

        The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled the law is constitutional in regard to due process, double jeopardy and invasion of privacy.

        Timothy Miller, a criminal division chief in the prosecutor's office, said sexual offenders often commit sex crimes again.


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