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Ohio Adam Walsh Act Violates Separation of Powers Doctrine

Provisions of Ohio’s Adam Walsh Act (AWA) that require the reclassification of sex offenders by the Ohio Attorney General violate the separation of powers doctrine, the Ohio Supreme Court decided on June 3, 2010.

In 2006, Congress passed the federal Adam Walsh Act. The federal AWA requires states to adopt national sex offender registration, community notification and classification standards or face the loss of a percentage of federal crime control funds.
The Ohio AWA, which implemented the federal AWA, was enacted by the state legislature in 2007. The Ohio AWA directs the state Attorney General to reclassify all Ohio sex offenders using federal AWA standards.

In 2007, Christian Bodyke was reclassified by the Attorney General as a “Tier III” offender based on a 1999 conviction for sexual battery. As a Tier III offender, Bodyke was required to register “with the local sheriff every 90 days for the duration of his life.” Before passage of the Ohio AWA, Bodyke was only required to register once a year for ten years.

Bodyke appealed his reclassification as a Tier III offender, arguing that the Ohio AWA reclassification violated separation of powers. The Ohio Supreme Court agreed. “The reclassification scheme in the AWA works to ‘legislatively vacate[] the settled and journalized final judgments of the judicial branch of government,’” the Supreme Court wrote. The legislature, however, “cannot vest authority in the attorney general to reopen and revise the final decision of a judge classifying a sex offender,” the Court concluded. “Our constitution and case law make undeniably clear that the judicial power resides exclusively in the judicial branch.”

Accordingly, the Supreme Court held that provisions of the Ohio AWA which “require the attorney general to reclassify sex offenders who have already been classified by court order under former law, impermissibly instruct the executive branch to review past decisions of the judicial branch and thereby violate the separation-of-powers doctrine.” See: State v. Bodyke, 933 N.E.2d 753, 126 Ohio St.3d 266 (Ohio 2010), reconsideration denied.

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Related legal case

State v. Bodyke