Richard Rost, a registered sex offender, once lived within 1,000 feet of a school. In Ohio, that's not allowed. He'd lived there since long before it was forbidden, though. The remedy, under Ohio law, has been for the prosecutor to bring an action to evict him.
Toledo took a different approach. The City decided to charge him with the crime of maintaining a nuisance. Essentially, they turned what should have been a simple eviction action into a criminal offense.
Toledo actually did that for a bunch of people. Most eventually entered pleas, maybe paid a fine, and moved away. Rost decided to fight it.
He filed a motion to dismiss the case explaining that for a whole bunch of reasons the residency restriction was unconstitutional and was, in any event, improper as applied to him because he'd lived there before there was a residency restriction.
At one point, the city planned to dismiss the case against Rost. Then they changed their mind. A federal court ruled that the residency restrictions can't be applied to people who owned their homes before the law took effect. While the case doddered along in Municipal Court, the city tore down the school. They said they planned to build another one on the site, but they haven't actually done that. The Municipal Court Judge said none of that mattered. He denied the motion to dismiss.
So here's Rost, convicted of a crime for, in essence, living near where a school once existed and might someday again exist. Was he a danger to a child? To anyone? There's no evidence he was, no indication at all. Did the law really apply to him? Seemed not. Didn't matter.
On to the court of appeals.
Oral argument was in early November. It's been almost six months. This morning the court ruled.
Reversed. There was no crime.
That's good for Rost, of course. But it raises a question that really ought to be addressed.
Why in god's name did the city pursue this turkey of a case? If they were looking for a test, trying to see if they could get away with it, you'd think they'd take up the best case they could find, not the worst. You know, go after a dangerous guy who moved near a school that actually existed.
Didn't do that.
Was it an exercise of pure hubris? Did they have so much invested in hating this guy (for no apparent reason) that they didn't care about whether what they were doing was simply wasting taxpayer dollars for the sheer embarrassment of being reversed?
Gideon glommed onto the story of Tonya Craft who's being prosecuted for a sex offense that, it seems likely, didn't occur. As we follow the tale (and please, do go and read about the case - and take the time to read more, going through the links Gideon provides) what's clear is that the prosecutor and judge are simply hurling stones at Craft knowing that any conviction they obtain will be reversed.
The cases aren't comparable. Craft faces years in prison before the damage of a conviction can be undone. And she faces an eternity of suffering just from having been charged. Rost gets off far easier. But still.
Except, see, it's about sex.
But you know, it's not.
They say that rape isn't really about sex. It's about power.
Same with these cases.
DISCLOSURE: Through the ACLU, I was one of Rost's lawyers on the appeal.