In a narrowly tailored decision, The Ohio Supreme Court this morning voided as unconstitutional two sections of the Ohio Adam Walsh Act (AWA) that authorized the state attorney general to reclassify sex offenders who had already been classified by judges under a previous version of the law, "Megan's Law." The Court held that the challenged provisions violate the separation-of-powers doctrine of the Ohio Constitution. ( See State v. Bodyke, 2008-2502 )
Citing the Supreme Court of Ohio's 1902 decision in Gompf v. Wolfinger, 67 O.St. 144, Justice Maureen O’Connor wrote: "'A judgment which is final by the laws existing when it is rendered cannot constitutionally be made subject to review by a statute subsequently enacted ...' The reclassification scheme in the AWA works to 'legislatively vacate the settled and journalized final judgments of the judicial branch of government.' ... (T)he General Assembly cannot vest authority in the attorney general to reopen and revise the final decision of a judge classifying a sex offender," the Court said in its summary.
"The decision also discussed an important legal doctrine, stare decisis, which provides that judges should follow prior, relevant precedent when deciding cases. Justice O’Connor, who authored the 2003 decision that announced the Ohio standard for overruling precedent, Galatis v. Westfield Insurance Co., 100 O.St3d 216, clarified Ohio law on stare decisis in two important regards. First, quoting from this Court’s 1989 decision in Rocky River v. State Emp. Relations Bd., 43 O.St3d 420, she reiterated the rule that 'stare decisis applies to rulings rendered in regard to specific statutes, [but] it is limited to circumstances "where the facts of a subsequent case are substantially the same as a former case.'" ... Noting that the AWA is substantially different from Megan's Law, she concluded that the court's prior decisions that had upheld that the constitutionality of Megan’s Law were not dispositive of Mr. Bodyke’s appeal, which involved a new statute, the AWA.
"Second, Justice O'Connor wrote, that "there is a more vital and compelling limitation on the doctrine as it has developed in Ohio: its inapplicability to constitutional claims." Citing the Court’s decision in Rocky River, she noted that the Court then had acknowledged that stare decisis "does not apply with the same force and effect when constitutional interpretation is at issue."
The Court's summary indicated that an "appropriate remedy for the separation of powers violations identified in today’s decision, would be the severance (deletion) of the reclassification provisions (R.C. 2950.031 and 2950.032) from the AWA while leaving the remainder of the statute in place would correct the constitutional defect identified by the Court without detracting from "the overriding objective of the General Assembly, i.e. to better protect the public from the recidivism of sex offenders."