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CUYAHOGA COUNTY Mahoning officials watch sex-offender suit



Published: Tue, April 30, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The suit will determine whether Mahoning County continues posting offenders' names on the Internet.

By BOB JACKSON

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County officials are keeping an eye on a federal lawsuit in Cleveland that could impact the way people are notified about the whereabouts of sexual predators.

The Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department recently began posting names and photographs of convicted sex offenders on the department's Web site.

Four convicted sex offenders are suing to stop that practice, saying it violates their civil rights.

The Mahoning County Sheriff's Department has listed sex offenders on its Web site for nearly a year. Those whose names appear don't like it, but no one has tried to stop it, said Sheriff Randall Wellington.

"But that suit is going to affect us, one way or another," said Maj. Michael Budd.

Looking ahead

If the Cuyahoga County suit is successful, it would affect all counties in the federal court system's northern district of Ohio, which includes Mahoning County, said Prosecutor Paul Gains.

That means if the practice of posting sexual predator names and addresses on the Internet is ruled unconstitutional, Mahoning County will have to pull the information off its Web site.

"It's an interesting issue," Gains said. "We will be watching to see how this ends up."

Under Ohio law, people convicted of certain crimes can be labeled sexual predators.

They are required to register their whereabouts with the sheriff's department in the county where they live for 10 or 20 years, or for the rest of their life, depending on their level of predator status.

The sheriff's department then sends a letter to the school district in the predator's school district, notifying officials that a sexual predator lives there.

School officials in turn notify people in the community.

Requirements for registering

Sexual predators are considered the worst of three levels of offenders, so they must register for life.

Habitual sex offenders, convicted of more than one sex-related crime, must register for 20 years, while sexually oriented offenders, convicted of one offense, have a 10-year limit.

Of the 61 sex offenders listed on Mahoning County's site, six are sexual predators, three are habitual sex offenders and the rest are sexually oriented offenders.

The site lists only their name and address, without photographs or background information.

The lawsuit contends that posting offenders' names on the Internet unfairly punishes offenders by going beyond local notification and making the information available globally via the Internet.

Wellington said he doesn't plan to stop listing sexual predator names while the lawsuit is pending.

bjackson@vindy.com




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