It is difficult to summon much sympathy for sex offenders. Thus, state lawmakers usually meet little public resistance when they tighten the screws, as they did four years ago, on those convicted of sex crimes, imposing tougher requirements and penalties with the intent to protect the public, especially children, who are least able to defend themselves.
Lawmakers have a duty to write laws that are appropriately tough. But they must not ignore the constitutional protections to which all citizens, including unsavory characters such as sex offenders, are entitled. When that occurs, it is up to the courts to restore the balance.
The Ohio Supreme Court did just that with a 5-2 ruling on Wednesday. The justices reviewed the case of a Warren County man whose sexual offense occurred before the current law was enacted in 2007. The court rightly concluded that the law on offender registration and notification cannot by applied retroactively.
The court reasoned that Senate Bill 10 made substantive changes to registration and notification requirements such that applying it to defendants who committed sex offenses before it was enacted imposed “new or additional burdens, duties, obligations, or liabilities as to a past transaction.” In such cases, the law is clearly unconstitutional.
By order of the court, the defendant — and likely many others in a similar situation — will be resentenced under the law in effect at the time of his offense. That is merely fair and just.