By Jessie Balmert
COLUMBUS — The Ohio Supreme Court will review whether requiring a boy to register as a sex offender for touching girls’ breasts violated the constitutional protection against avoid cruel and unusual punishment.
The Licking County case joins a number disputing how sex offender registration is applied to juveniles. Justices have heard oral arguments on an Athens County case and will apply their opinion to those that apply.
In July 2010, the 17-year-old boy was found delinquent of sexual imposition and disorderly conduct, both the equivalent of misdemeanor offenses, for grabbing girls’ breasts during the 2009-10 school year, according to a memorandum filed by attorney Todd Barstow.
The boy was expelled from Licking Heights High School for his conduct.
The boy also was required to register as a Tier I sex offender once a year for 15 years, according to the memorandum.
Barstow argued the boy should not be required to register as a sex offender because the practice is cruel and unusual punishment barred by the Eighth Amendment.
Juvenile court proceedings focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment, he wrote.
“(P)erhaps one of the most disturbing concerns about the new law is that it is being applied to juveniles in the same way it is to adults — solely based on the offense — thereby conferring adult penalties on juvenile offenders, who are less culpable than their adult counterparts,” Barstow wrote in the memorandum.
If given proper treatment, 90 to 96 percent of juveniles who commit sex offenses won’t do it again, according to the Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities.
Licking County Assistant Prosecutor Rachel Huston argued sex offender registration is a civil remedy not a criminal punishment, according to her memorandum.
- They may say that is what it is, but why don't you live with the label and laws, then tell me it's not punishment.
“A law cannot constitute cruel and unusual punishment if it is not, in fact, punishment,” Huston wrote.
She also wrote the boy should have raised the argument earlier.
The Ohio Supreme Court’s decision in the Athens County case will apply to the Licking County situation without having to rehash the same arguments, Barstow said.
“We’ll see what happens,” he said.