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Ohio's child-enticement law declared unconstitutional

TNS Regional News • Mar 9, 2014 at 8:17 AM

While moving, Jason Romage offered some quarters to two boys in the parking lot to carry boxes from his car into his apartment.

After one of the boys’ mothers complained, Columbus police charged Romage, a barber and youth soccer coach with no criminal record, with child enticement.

There was no evidence that Romage intended to harm the boys, but state law made it a crime for anyone — regardless of intent — to ask a child under age 14 to accompany them into a vehicle or building without their parents’ consent.

The Ohio Supreme Court yesterday threw out a section of the child-enticement law in a 5-2 ruling that found it improperly converted “innocent situations” and “constitutionally protected activity” into potential crimes.

The court said that part of the law was overly broad and compromised First Amendment freedoms because it did not require criminal intent to be charged with the first-degree misdemeanor carrying up to six months in jail.

In her majority opinion, Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger suggested that lawmakers may have overstepped in their zeal to protect children and wrote of scenarios where a well-meaning person could be charged with child enticement.

“A primary-school coach offering to drive a team member home to retrieve a forgotten piece of practice equipment; a parent at a community facility offering to drive another’s child home so she does not have to walk; a senior citizen offering a 13-year-old neighborhood child money to help with household chores.”

Bridget Purdue Riddell, a Columbus lawyer who represents Romage, said her now-44-year-old client was victimized in 2010 by a poorly written law “that required no malintent or bad motive” to be charged with a crime.

“Perhaps the General Assembly will take this as a cue to rewrite the statute,” she said.

Ohio lawmakers did amend part of the enticement law last year to add “unlawful purpose,” but did not change the section overturned by the Supreme Court. Another part that requires “sexual motivation” as an element also survives.

The offices of Columbus City Attorney Richard C. Pfeiffer Jr. and Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien, among others, asked the court to construe the wording of the law more narrowly.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justice Judith L. French dissented. French wrote that the court improperly used a sweeping, “out of context” definition of the word solicit to throw out the enticement law.

“When reading the word ‘solicit’ with its neighboring operative verbs — ‘coax, entice or lure’ — one can reasonably find a more sinister connotation,” she wrote.

Lara Baker-Moorish, Columbus’ prosecuting attorney, said, “We recognize there were some concerns ... but, if you read all the words together, it has to be something with more nefarious intent than simply asking a child to come along with you.”


By Randy Ludlow - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)

©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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