An important piece of criminal defense legislation was passed late last year and implementation has begun as of July 1, 2013. According to the new law, passed by the Ohio General Assembly, those convicted of arson-related crimes will be required to register in a database, similar to the sex-offender database currently used across the nation. The new legislation requires the arsonist to renew their registration every year for at least 10 years at a local sheriff’s office. Failure to complete this renewal may result in a fifth-degree felony charge, which can carry a penalty of up to 1 year in prison and / or $2,500 in fines. Those currently facing arson charges may want to consult a defense attorney regarding the application of this new law to their case.
According to the Ohio State Fire Marshal, more than 8,000 counts of arson were reported last year, and totaled over $160 million in damage. Estimates of arrests suggest that around 500 individuals are convicted each year for arson. This surprisingly high number of offenses has led supporters to promote the new registry in hopes of reducing these costly crimes.
Opponents of the law say that it was slipped through with little public awareness, and they worry that it will place extra work on the sheriff’s department. The sex-offender database requires hours of maintenance, and there are concerns that the new arson registration laws will add to the strain already placed on under-staffed departments. Some question the necessity of the database, questioning whether it will assist in abating arson at all. Speakers from the American Civil Liberties Union have also expressed concern that the resources necessary to maintaining the registry will outweigh any benefits. Debate continues over the precedent the database will set for other crime registries, and some fear this will begin a chain of registries that will cause increasing strain on police resources.
The national sex offender registry is publically available, but there are currently no plans to follow suit by making the arsonist database available publically. Some have expressed concern that this will make the inevitable errors and inaccuracies that have surfaced in the sex-offender records will remain undiscovered by individuals for long periods of time. A proposed scenario is a job applicant falling victim to an error in the database and being unaware that a record of arson is popping up for background checks.
Supporters argue that the minimal errors and resources that may arise are not significant enough to ignore the string of arson crimes in the state. The pathology behind pyromania remains a topic of discussion regarding the need for a registry as well, as some supporters of the law believe that the psychology and addiction behind some arsonists warrants a database of continual offenders.
For better or worse, the registration process began on Monday, July 1. This new requirement does not apply to those convicted of arson before then, however. The initial registry fee is $50, and renewals will cost $25 per year. Unlike the sex-offender database, however, registrants will not be required to re-register each time they move.