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Sex-offender law ruled unconstitutional

9-5-2007 Ohio:

Akron man's right to live near school decades after crime is upheld

A federal judge Tuesday ruled that the Ohio law restricting sex offenders from living near a school is unconstitutional for those whose crimes were committed before the 1,000-foot limit went into effect.

Lane C. Mikaloff, 39, a registered Summit County sex offender freed from prison by the Ohio Parole Board five years ago, had challenged the law in a one-day trial in Akron in June 2006.

U.S. District Judge James S. Gwin ruled the residency restriction cannot be applied to offenders who committed their crimes before July 2003, when the state legislature passed the law prohibiting sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school.

Gwin wrote in his decision that the law ''only restricts a sex offender's place of sleep. It does not limit the offender's ability to occupy a residence in proximity to the school during school hours. It does not limit the offender's ability to go to any public park or drive on any street within 1,000 feet of a school. And it does not limit the offender's access to children in the offender's own neighborhood.''

Mikaloff's lawyer, David Singleton of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center in Cincinnati, called the decision ''a landmark ruling that will have national impact as courts around the country address the growing number of such restrictions.''

Singleton argued last year before Gwin that Summit County's effort to enforce the law violated Mikaloff's constitutional rights because the residency restriction was enacted long after his crimes were committed.

Mikaloff was not immediately available for comment.

A spokesman for the Ohio Attorney General's Office said state lawyers, who challenged Singleton's arguments before Gwin, reviewed the judge's decision, and ''they believe the ruling applies only to this plaintiff and that the buffer-zone law is still in effect as it relates to all other sex offenders in the state.''

The spokesman, Leo Jennings, said the state's position was based on ''the fact that the judge repeatedly refers to this defendant . . . and the special circumstances and unique set of facts that are present in this case.''

Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh, in a statement released by her spokeswoman, said she did not agree with Gwin's ruling and intends to appeal.

Walsh said the 1,000-foot law is ''significant to protecting our children and we will pursue the necessary legal steps to uphold this law.''

Mikaloff was freed from prison in 2002 after serving 16 years for rape and aggravated burglary convictions from the 1980s.

He and his family had been living rent-free in cramped quarters on Beardsley Street on Akron's south side. The residence behind a home owned by his mother has been in his family for decades.

But in late November 2005, Mikaloff received a letter from sheriff's officials giving him 30 days to move.

A similar letter was sent to 148 registered sex offenders determined by county prosecutors to be in violation of the residency restriction.

Mikaloff's case, however, drew nationwide attention after his victim read an Akron Beacon Journal news account about his eviction first published in December 2005 and said she had forgiven him long ago.

A Christmas benevolent fund, organized by friends of Mikaloff's victim, raised about $800 for his family. His victim was the first to contribute to it.

Mikaloff, who was in Tennessee attending to his mother's health problems, according to Singleton, was expected to return to Akron later this week, the lawyer said.

Singleton said he did not have exact figures on how many state sex offenders might be affected by Gwin's ruling but estimated that it could be ''in the thousands.''

In testifying before Gwin last year, Mikaloff told the court he was ''not the person I used to be. Through treatment and help from many people and the desire to change I've turned my life around.'' ..Source.. by Ed Meyer, Beacon Journal staff writer

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