The Ohio House could vote as soon as this week to create its first statewide registry of violent offenders, a measure prompted by the 2016 murder of Metamora’s Sierah Joughin at the hands of a Delta man previously convicted of abduction.
The House Criminal Justice Committee unanimously sent Senate Bill 231, to be called “Sierah’s Law,” to the full chamber. But first the committee amended it to clarify that some sensitive personal information about those on the list could not get in the hands of the general public.
Ms. Joughin’s family has argued that law enforcement should have had the additional tool of a database containing the addresses of people convicted of certain violent crimes living in the area on the summer night Sierah disappeared while biking home.
“It’s not just about Sierah,” her mother, Sheila Vaculik, said after the vote. “I hope at some point it helps any family who loses a loved one and they are frantically looking because those first 24 to 48 hours are so crucial, and especially when we live in a hub where sex trafficking is so huge.”
Critics, however, contend databases like the existing public sex offender registry do not work. They argue that they provide a false sense of security to the public and throw obstacles into the path of those seeking to rebuild their lives after paying their debts to society.
“There will be no explanation that the individual on the list may have only been 18 years old when they committed the offense and that they spent significant time in prison working hard to improve and educate themselves,” Laura Austen, a deputy director with the Ohio Public Defender’s office, said in written testimony submitted to the committee.
“Regardless of the circumstances surrounding an individual’s admission to the database, being on the list will cause the public to assume those people should be feared and loathed,” she wrote.
Ms. Joughin’s killer, James D. Worley, is now on Ohio’s death row after being convicted of abducting, handcuffing, and asphyxiating her. He’d previously served a sentence for a similar crime in Lucas County in 1990 that the victim survived.
He served three years on an abduction plea deal and had long been out of prison before he attacked Ms. Joughin, so there are questions of whether he would have been in such a database if it had existed the night she disappeared.
Sponsored by Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green), the bill would require those convicted of murder, attempted murder, voluntary manslaughter, kidnapping, and abduction and who leave prison after the law takes effect to register annually with county sheriffs for at least 10 years.
Unlike the sex offender registry, which can be searched by the public on the Internet, the statewide violent offender database would be for law-enforcement eyes only. But members of the public could still access some of the information on a county-by-county basis by visiting the local sheriff.
Rep. Bill Seitz (R., Cincinnati) had the bill amended to ensure that failure of a past offender to annually update his information with the county sheriff would not itself be considered a violent offense that could send him back to prison.
Lawmakers have just six potential days of floor votes scheduled in lame-duck session.