Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Arson Registration Law Tests Separation of Powers Boundaries

Image of two firefighters putting out a raging fire

Court hears claim that Arson Offender Registry is unconstitutional.

Image of two firefighters putting out a raging fire

Court hears claim that Arson Offender Registry is unconstitutional.

Since mid-2013, anyone convicted in Ohio of an arson-related crime must register with county sheriffs for life. A judge can reduce an offender’s registration, but only if the prosecutor and the law enforcement agency involved in the arson case recommend the reduction.

The state law forbidding a judge from acting on the registration reduction without permission from executive branch officers raises a question of the separations of powers between branches of government. During oral arguments next week, the Supreme Court of Ohio will consider a split among Ohio courts on whether the registration reduction law violates the Ohio Constitution.

Arson Offender Challenges Sentence
In October 2019, Tyree Daniel and others set fire to a commercial building in Toledo. As part of a plea agreement, Daniel pleaded guilty to one count of arson. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail and three years of community control.

At his initial sentencing hearing, Daniel’s attorney objected to his client’s obligation to register with the Arson Offender Registry, stating that the law creating the registry, R.C. 2909.15(D)(2)(b), is unconstitutional. He maintained the law violates the separation of powers in the Ohio Constitution.

The trial court rejected the argument and ordered Daniel to register for the rest of his life as an arson offender. Daniel appealed the registration requirement to the Sixth District Court of Appeals. The Sixth District affirmed the trial court’s ruling, and also certified that its decision conflicts with the Fourth District Court of Appeals 2017 State v. Dingus decision, which found the registration reduction provisions unconstitutional.

Challenger Declines Chance to Argue Case
The Lucas County Prosecutor’s Office will present its argument that the law is constitutional, and will be joined by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, which filed an amicus curiae brief. The attorney general requested and received approval to share the prosecutor’s oral argument time.

Daniel has filed a brief as a party in the case, but informed the Court he will waive his oral argument time and let his case stand on his written arguments.

Opponents Debate Whether Law Intrudes on Judge’s Power to Impose Punishment
All the parties agree that the words “separation of powers” don’t appear in the U.S. or Ohio constitutions, but the concept is implied by the structure of the government, which divides duties among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Daniel and the public defender maintain that the lifetime registry requirement meets the definition of “punishment” and is part of his criminal sentence. Because only the judiciary has the power to sentence a defendant and impose the punishment, the registration law violates the separation of powers because the prosecutor and law enforcement agency have the power to limit the judge’s discretion, they argue.

The Lucas County prosecutor and the attorney general counter that the registration is a collateral, or additional, civil obligation placed on an arson offender and doesn’t constitute punishment. The registry isn’t accessible to the public. Only limited law enforcement and firefighting officials can review it.

The prosecutor describes R.C. 2909.15(D)(2)(b) as a “trigger” that allows the trial court to consider a lesser registration requirement but has no effect on the court’s role to determine guilt. The judge also isn’t bound by any executive branch recommendation and can reduce the registration requirements in the law or ignore them, the proponents for the law note.

The attorney general argues that the judicial branch has the sole power to impose sentences, but it is the legislature that creates all sentences. The General Assembly didn’t have to create an exception to the lifetime registration, but when lawmakers did, it was within legislative power to determine how it would apply, the attorney general maintains. The legislature gave the executive branch the power to guide the courts in the resolution of an arson case, and that limitation is entirely within the power of the legislature to grant, the attorney general asserts.

Watch Oral Arguments Online
The Court will hear State v. Daniel and three other appeals on March 21. On March 22, the Court will consider four other cases. Arguments begin at 9 a.m. at the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center in Columbus. They are streamed live online at and on the Ohio Channel, where they are also available for later viewing.

The Court’s Office of Public Information released detailed articles today about each case by clicking on the  case names.

Tuesday, March 21

Conflicts Across States
An Indiana manufacturer was identified in 1986 as possibly responsible for environmental contamination in Michigan. A Westlake, Ohio, business owns the Indiana manufacturer and sued four insurance companies in 2019 related to the environmental cleanup of the Michigan sites. The insurance companies were accused of violating their contracts by refusing coverage and of acting in bad faith . As part of discovery , the trial court ordered one insurer to produce documents. In The Scott Fetzer Company v. American Home Assurance Company Inc. et al., the insurer argues that Michigan or Indiana law applies and would prohibit the production of the documents. The business contends that the dispute falls under Ohio laws because its business is located in the state and the bad faith was directed at the business.

Juror Removals
A man was charged in Fairfield County with a misdemeanor alleging he had inappropriate sexual contact with a woman working at a convenience store. During jury selection for a trial, the prosecutor used peremptory challenges to remove two men as possible jurors. The defendant argued their removal was gender discrimination. The jury ended up with six women and three men. The prosecutor in State v. Stalder maintains that the defendant presented no facts or juror statements to support his case for gender discrimination. The man counters that the prosecutor purposely excluded men from the jury believing that women would empathize more with the state’s case.

Lawsuit Deadlines
In 2020, a Franklin County mother of three filed a medical negligence lawsuit against a colon and rectal surgeon, whom she accused of misdiagnosing her symptoms in 2015. She later discovered she had colon cancer and died in 2022. The woman’s lawsuit was dismissed because she missed the deadline to file her suit under the statute of repose, which gave her four years to file her case. Her three children filed a separate lawsuit in 2021 against the doctor for loss of consortium based on their mother’s illness. In McCarthy v. Lee, the Court will determine whether the statute of repose also blocks the children’s lawsuit related to their mother’s injury.

Wednesday, March 22

Public Records
At the urging of Congress, Ohio adopted a Fair Access to Insurance Requirements (FAIR) plan in 1968 to ensure urban area homeowners and businesses had access to property insurance at an affordable cost. In 2020, a Toledo-based housing advocacy group submitted a public records request with the Ohio FAIR plan seeking to determine what properties received coverage and who was denied over a five-year period. The plan denied the request for its records. In State ex rel. Fair Housing Center v. Ohio FAIR plan¸ the Court will consider if the plan must comply with state public records law.

Child Support
In 2019, a Medina County man was indicted for felony nonpayment of child support. He submitted a court order indicating that his support obligations ended in 2014. He asked the trial court to dismiss the charges. He maintained that at the time of his indictment, state law didn’t allow someone to be charged with a felony for unpaid past support obligations. The trial court denied his request, and he pleaded guilty to the charges. An appeals court reversed the lower court’s decision. In State v. Swazey, the Court will consider whether the trial court must grant his request to dismiss the charges and whether he can appeal after pleading guilty.

Trade Secrets
A funeral director worked for 33 years at a Lima funeral home. After another funeral home purchased the Lima business, the funeral director wasn’t kept as an employee. He joined a competitor and sent letters to 99 people encouraging them to switch their preneed funeral contracts from his prior employer to his new employer. Many transferred their contracts. In Hanneman Family Funeral Home and Crematorium v. Orians, the buyer funeral home argues the funeral director stole the contracts, which were trade secrets containing confidential information. The buyer funeral home maintains that the contracts, valued at $1.3 million, were part of the purchase. The funeral director and his new employer assert the information was available publicly and people are permitted to transfer their preneed funeral contracts.

Attorney Representation
Two women charged in Scioto County with drug-related crimes want a law firm to represent them both. After being informed of the potential conflicts of interest with joint representation, they signed waivers. The trial court, however, disqualified the law firm from representing both defendants . The women contend in State v. Jordan and State v. Johnson that they should be able to hire the lawyer of their choosing. The prosecutor responds that the current evidence supports disqualifying the law firm from representing both women. The Court consolidated their separate appeals.