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Legislative aftermath of Facebook killing

Published: April 27, 2017 1:52 PM

COLUMBUS -- Stuff happens all the time to spotlight deficiencies in Ohio Revised Code, and lawmakers, when sufficiently provoked, will step up and offer legislation to address the shortcomings.

When, for example, it became clear that state law didn't prohibit sex between people and animals, legislators offered a bill and eventually passed it, formally barring such activities.

Sometimes, reactionary bills are fully warranted. Nobody wants cars pulling through red lights whenever it strikes a driver's fancy, when lawmakers really intended only bicycles not registering on traffic sensors to have that privilege. Initial legislation on that subject passed late last year; lawmakers stepped up and corrected their mistake a few months later.

At other times, legislation becomes a platform to draw attention to an issue, with sponsors' fully understanding that they don't have the support of the folks in charge to actually change state law.

Take Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent), who has introduced legislation that would require presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns in order to appear on the Ohio ballot. HB 93 is titled the Tax Returns Uniformly Made Public, or TRUMP, Act.

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Whether you think that's a good idea or not is beside the point; barring something politically cataclysmic occurring at the state or national level, the Republicans who control the Statehouse aren't going let it pass.

Then there are bills that are offered after some sort of heinous crime takes place, with calls for greater penalties or prohibitions on certain behaviors.

If it hasn't happened already, I would expect to see some sort of bill in Ohio or elsewhere in response to the recent killing up in Cleveland, which the perpetrator recorded and then posted online for the world to see.

That guy's dead -- he killed himself after police closed in on him a half hour or so over the state line in Pennsylvania -- so we'll never know what sort of criminal justice he would have faced.

But there's seemingly universal public disgust over his actions and his use of social media to broadcast what he did to the world.

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There are a few areas of state law that could be considered by lawmakers in response.

One is Ohio's "Failure to Report a Felony" statute, which requires residents to report crimes they witness to law enforcement.

Dan Tierney, a spokesman at the attorney general's office, points out that prosecutors have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that witnesses know they are seeing a crime taking place, which can make enforcement of that law problematic.

There are other sections of state law that prohibit the posting of certain crimes -- child pornography and threats come immediately to mind.

Those and other sections of statute could be used to address the Facebook murder.

Whether that's a good idea is open for debate.

Mark Weaver, who heads a Columbus consulting firm and who, among his other work, focuses on these sorts of issues with law students, said there haven't been a many court cases dealing with the streaming criminal acts online.

"It's a novel issue," he said. "It's just not something that's been around long enough [for legislatures to tackle]."

Something else to consider: There are other laws already on the books that could be used to penalize people who choose to record their crimes and post them for the public to see.

In the end, crimes like the one perpetrated by that now-dead Cleveland guy carry sufficient penalties to address the acts.

"I wouldn't be surprised if we saw a lawmaker sponsor a bill to make streaming a crime an additional offense," Weaver said.

But, he added, "There's plenty of penalties available for when you commit violent crimes. If a judge wants to, a judge can sentence you to a very long [time in prison]."'

Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at mkovac@recordpub.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.


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