Tuesday, April 10, 2001

Plan seeks to lower 'sexual predator' age


Label could include teen-agers as young as 14

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Teen-agers as young as 14 could be labeled sexual predators for life under a bill up for a state Senate committee vote Tuesday.

        The proposal has support from police and victims' rights advocates, who say it would stop juvenile sex offenders from committing further crimes.

        Opponents, including the Ohio Public Defender's Office and advocates for children, say it contradicts the goal of trying to rehabilitate youthful offenders.

        The bill pending with the Senate Judiciary Committee on Criminal Justice would extend the state's version of Megan's Law to teen-agers 14 and older.

        Children who commit adult crimes must face adult consequences to stop them from committing future crimes, said bill sponsor Sen. Jay Hottinger, a Newark Republican.

        Megan's Law, named for a slain New Jersey girl, requires adult sex offenders to register with the state and allows their names and addresses to be released to neighbors.

        Harrison police Detective Steve Mathews told lawmakers that the change is needed because sex offenders, juvenile or otherwise, are likely to repeat their crimes.

        Det. Haskins said the proposal overlooks the fact that juvenile sex offenders are usually victims of sex abuse who need treatment.

        David Bodiker of the Ohio Public Defender's Office said the proposal has the potential of branding juveniles for life for a problem for which they could be treated.

        “Do I want some sex-crazed juvenile attacking my daughter? Absolutely not. Do I want my best friend's son who is out on a date and does something to be branded for life as a juvenile sexual predator? I don't want that either,” Mr. Bodiker said.

        The bill would allow judges to label teen-age offenders with one of three adult labels: sexual predator, habitual sex offender or sexually oriented offender.

        Under Megan's Law, an adult labeled a sexual predator must register with authorities for life.

        A habitual sex offender must register with authorities for 20 years, and a sexually oriented offender for 10 years.

        The state releases 100 to 200 juvenile offenders annually who might be affected by the bill, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Service Commission.

        The bill would give judges discretion on whether to require the labels for 14- and 15-year-olds who are first-time sex offenders.

        The labels would be mandatory for older teen-agers, but they could eventually appeal their labels.

        At least 28 states have enacted similar laws.

THE PROPOSAL

               Details of a proposed bill by Sen. Jay Hottinger, a Newark Republican, to extend to some teen-agers Ohio's version of Megan's Law, which requires convicted adult sex offenders to register with authorities:

        • Would extend the three sex offender labels now reserved for adult offenders to teen-agers 14 and older. The labels are sexual predator, habitual sex offender and sexually oriented offender.

        • Would require juveniles receiving those labels to register with the authorities and could allow a community to be notified about their presence.

        • Judges would have discretion in deciding whether to place the labels on 14- or 15-year-olds who are first-time offenders.

        • The labels would be mandatory for 16- and 17-year-olds, but they eventually would be able to appeal the labels.

        • Estimated to cost the state up to $300,000 annually in added expenses to the attorney general's sex offender registry and the Department of Youth Services' role in collecting and disseminating information on juvenile sex offenders.

        Source: Legislative Service Commission and the Senate Judiciary Committee on Criminal Justice.

       



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