The Ohio Supreme Court recently held that a portion of Ohio’s sexual battery statute was unconstitutional as it applies to police officers. Although the statute imposes criminal liability for a number of classes of individuals with authoritarian relationships over others, the Court found that including police officers in that statute was a violation of an officer’s equal protection rights and declared that portion of the statute unconstitutional.
Ohio’s sexual battery statute outlaws sexual conduct in a variety of scenarios, including teacher/student, cleric/minor parishioner, jailer/inmate, and parent/step-parent/person in loco parentis of an individual. It also prohibits sexual conduct where “[t]he other person is a minor, the offender is a peace officer, and the offender is more than two years older than the other person.” Thus, it was illegal for a 21 year-old police officer to have consensual sex with a 17 year-old, regardless of whether being a police officer had any impact on the situation at all. The offender in that scenario, then, would be subject to lifetime sexual offender registration and a prison sentence of one to five years.
In State v. Mole, the Ohio Supreme Court found this provision to be unconstitutional as the State was punishing a class of professionals without making a connection between the classification and the prohibited act. The Court noted that the different treatment of police officers in the statute was based on an irrational classification and that imposing strict liability solely based on a defendant’s occupation status in this instance bore no rational relationship to the government’s interest in protecting minors from sexual coercion by people in positions of authority.
Although the Court deemed the statute unconstitutional, it did seem to leave the door open so that if the legislature amends the statute then it would pass a constitutional challenge. So a potential amendment connecting an officer’s status with the criminal conduct may be forthcoming. Regardless, this is a major victory for the Ohio criminal defense bar. Additionally, it may allow an experienced criminal defense attorney the opportunity to vacate convictions under this statute. If you have been convicted of this offense feel free to contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Rittgers & Rittgers for a free consultation.