The Fifth District Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Richland County, issued a decision May 21, 2015 holding that a sex offender who in fact registers with the sheriff’s office but fails to provide his email address while registering is guilty of R.C. 2950.05(D), Failure to Register as a Sex Offender. In State v. Arnold, the charge was a second degree felony, which carried a prison sentence of 2-8 years when the defendant failed to indicate his email address and other internet identifiers on his sex offender registration.
The facts provided by the opinion are not particularly detailed, but the defendant was also charged with tampering with records, four counts, each a fourth degree felony. How a person can be found to have tampered with a record simply by failing to include information is beyond me. The facts in the Fifth District Court of Appeals opinion do not seem to support this charge, but all the facts may not be there.
The Court of Appeals upheld a conviction for failure to register as a sex offender when he did in fact register, but did not include email addresses. Unfortunately, the court decided not to follow existing legal precedence. In a separate case, the Second District found that an individual who initially reported his phone number but subsequently failed to update it did not constitute a punishable registration violation. In another case, the Eighth district found that a person who registers but lies in his registration did not violate the statute for failing to report because the statute merely requires the offender to hand the registration to the sheriff. If you would like to see some maneuvering around other Districts' case law, you should read the opinion, found here.
The bottom line is this young man, who was already convicted and sentenced for a sex offense, who must register as a sex offender every 6 months for 25 years, and who did in fact register, now will face an additional felony charge carrying 2-8 years prison simply for failing to provide the sheriff's department with his email address. The sex offender reporting requirements instituted by our legislature and imposed by judges are a terrible knee-jerk reaction to a very serious and legitimate concern with sex offenses. Reporting is important, but the mandatory harsh prison sentences used to enforce registration results in individuals being punished a second time at the level of the initial sex offense for conduct that is an issue of technical reporting. In many instances, courts do not have the discretion to take into account the details of the registration deficiency.
Lawmakers have been coming down harder and harder on sex offenders to increase their political capital. Courts are now being compelled to do things like sentence a sex offender 2-8 years prison for failing to provide an email address. And what's troubling in this case is the court had the opportunity to avoid imposing such a harsh sentence by following other Ohio Districts, but declined to do so.