Court upholds Richmond ruling

STEUBENVILLE – The 7th District Court of Appeals upheld the sexual offender classification ruling for Ma’Lik Richmond in connection with the 2012 Steubenville rape case.

Richmond, 18, was convicted in juvenile court in March 2013 along with co-defendant Trent Mays, 18, of raping a female juvenile from Weirton following alcohol-fueled parties in August 2012.

Mays was sentenced to a minimum of two years in a Department of Youth Services facility. Richmond was sentenced to a minimum of one year in a state youth detention center and and was released in January.

Mays and Richmond were both classified as Tier II sex offenders by visiting Judge Thomas Lipps during hearings, requiring them to report their addresses to the sheriff of the county where they live every six months for 20 years.

State public defender Brooke Burns argued several points about the juvenile sex offender registration law, saying they constituted cruel punishment and violate constitutional rights. Lipps overruled those motions at the sexual classification hearing.

The court of appeals reviewed the same arguments and this week released an opinion upholding Lipps’ rulings and the sexual offender classification.

Richmond’s attorneys with the state public defender’s office claimed entering a sexual offender classification after release from a detention facility violates the principles of double jeopardy.

“The juvenile court has statutory authority to enter a classification upon release from the secure facility rather than at disposition. The juvenile being sentenced to a secure facility has statutory notice that classification will not occur at initial disposition but will be deferred until release,” the ruling from the court of appeals states.

Richmond’s attorneys also argued the juvenile laws for different age groups violate the constitution’s equal protection clause, but the court of appeals said the state legislature wrote into law that juveniles under the age of 16 are not mature enough to realize the consequences of their acts. Juvenile court is required by law to issue a sexual offender classification of 16 and 17 year olds.

“The purpose of sex offender registration is ultimately to protect the public,” the appeals court decision stated. “As the state argues, it is a core premise of the juvenile system that as a juvenile matures, he becomes more responsible and thus more accountability can be expected. The state urges that the prohibition on classifying those 13 and under, the discretionary classification of those 14 and 15 and the mandatory classification of sex offenders who are 16 and 17 evinces a rational common sense adoption of the theory that younger children are less culpable, less accountable and less dangerous.”

Richmond’s attorneys said juvenile court doesn’t have jurisdiction over a juvenile past their 21st birthday, but the court of appeals disagreed. Richmond can ask the juvenile court to change his sexual offender classification.

Three years after the classification ruling, a juvenile can file a petition seeking declassification or reclassification and can then file another petition three years later and yet another petition five years later.

“Considering that the judge has initial discretion in choosing a tier for a 16 or 17 year old, who can present evidence at a hearing in support of a lower tier, and considering that the classification can be reduced at final disposition and can be eliminated three years after final disposition, the mere fact that the classification can extend beyond age 21 is not cruel and unusual, nor does it shock the conscience or raise concerns with fundamental fairness,” the court ruling states.