CINCINNATI -- If a stranger tried to lure your child into a car, you would expect police to arrest that person immediately.
But that might not be the case anymore after a ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court this month.
Officers with the Cincinnati Police Department were given a directive this week not to arrest anyone for child enticement until further notice.
The high court struck down the state’s child enticement law on March 6, concluding that it has the admirable goal of preventing child abductions and lewd acts but can’t be used to stop legal activity such as hiring a child to do chores without a parent’s permission.
At issue is a law making it illegal to “solicit, coax, entice or lure” a child under 14 in any way unless the person has a parent or guardian’s permission or is a police officer, emergency medical worker, firefighter, school employee or school volunteer.
The safety and welfare of children deserves governmental protection, Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger said, writing for the court’s 5-2 majority. “But a statute that defines criminal conduct should not include what is constitutionally protected activity."
Because the word “solicit” can mean something as basic as “asking,” the law “can support criminal charges against a person in many innocent scenarios,” Lanzinger wrote.
Those could include an elementary school coach offering to drive a child home to pick up a forgotten piece of sports equipment; a parent at a community center offering to drive someone’s child home so the child doesn’t have to walk; or a senior citizen offering a 13-year-old neighbor money for chores, Lanzinger said.
Some have concerns, though, about the ripple effects of the high court's ruling.
Cincinnati criminal defense attorney Mark Krumbein said he believes the decision may have a negative impact on the safety of local children. He said it may cause offenders charged with luring a child with ill intent to be released.
“There are probably some (cases) in the pipeline already that will be thrown out,” Krumbein said.
Krumbein said amending the law wouldn't take much and legislators should act quickly.
“They have a lot of lawyers in the legislature… They should really know that any criminal statute should have an intent to do wrong in it,” Krumbein said. “It's really that straightforward. Sort of amazing that it became a law in the first place.”
Cincinnati City Prosecutor Charles Rubenstein said the new directive to Cincinnati police “does not and will not” prevent officers from investigating cases of enticement and filing reports on them.
He said officers are just currently prohibited from filing charges.