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When Can Sex Offender Status for Juveniles Be Decided? Supreme Court Weighs In.


Ohio law lists some circumstances under which juvenile offenders could be classified as sex offenders (see R.C. 2152.83). A recent Ohio Supreme Court ruling further confirmed the accepted interpretation of the statute, saying that “the plain language of the statute is unambiguous.”

The high court’s ruling confirms that R.C. 2152.83 allows juvenile justice courts to hold hearings at the time of the disposition to determine sex offender status in cases where the juvenile has committed a sexually-oriented or child-victim offense.

The Supreme Court’s decision affirmed a ruling made by the Second District Court of Appeals and also settled a dispute among Ohio appellate courts.

The case the spurred the ruling took place in December 2011 in Clark County Juvenile Court. The minor was found guilty (“delinquent” – in juvenile cases) to the sex offense of rape. After the delinquent ruling, the case moved to a disposition, the hearing to determine the minor’s sentence. At this disposition, the court ruled that the juvenile register as a Tier III sex offender. According to Justice Pfeifer, the judge who wrote the decision,

The court that adjudicates a child a delinquent child’ may hold an R.C. 2152.83(B)(2) hearing at the time of the disposition. Since ‘[t]he court that adjudicates a child a delinquent child’ necessarily includes a court that commits a child to a secure facility, it follows that a court that commits a child to a secured facility may hold an R.C. 2152.83(B)(2) hearing at the time of disposition.

Justice Pfeifer also added that classifying juveniles as sex offenders at sentencing may also motivate them to complete sex offender treatment, as opposed to classifying them after release from detention, which leaves less time to complete treatment and potentially get their classification reduced/removed. Justice French further clarified, and added “A juvenile court may choose option one (a hearing at disposition) or option two (a hearing at release), but it cannot choose both.”