Sex-offender registration is not cruel and unusual punishment, rules Ohio Supreme Court

The Ohio Supreme Court held yesterday that the mandatory sex-offender registration and notification requirements under Ohio law are not cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the U.S. or Ohio Constitutions. The case before the court involved Travis Blankenship, who, at 21 years old, had a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl (M.H.). He was convicted of a Tier II sex offense under O.R.C. 2907.04 because of the six-year age difference between him and the victim. This means that under O.R.C. 2950.06 and 2950.07 he is required to register as a sex offender in person in any county where he lives, works or attends school, and to verify his address every 180 days. These requirements are in place for 25 years.

In reaching its decision, the court acknowledged its previous holding in State v. Williams that the sex offender registration requirements are a punishment and not just a remedial measure, and then undertook an analysis of whether the punishment was cruel and unusual. The court held that the punishment was proportionate to the crime in this case, finding that Blankenship was culpable under the statute because he had a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old, that the punishment was not so severe as to be considered cruel, and that there were valid reasons for the requirements to exist, as they were designed to protect the safety of others.

The court acknowledged that the relationship between Blankenship and M.H. would have been legal had she been 16, and that the court-appointed psychologist found him unlikely to re-offend, but still found that he had violated the law as it was written. The court also noted that while some have criticized sex-offender registration as not particularly effective, many jurisdictions still consider it as an important alternative to imprisonment to prevent recidivism. The court also found that the registration requirements do not violate the Ohio Constitution, as they would not be considered "shocking to a reasonable person."

Justice Lanzinger wrote the opinion for the court. Justice O'Donnell wrote a separate concurrence, which Justice Kennedy joined. Justices Pfeifer and O'Neill each separately dissented. For more information about the case, see this article from Court News Ohio and the online docket, available here.