Ohio lawmakers want tougher sentences for online child predators

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Two Ohio state lawmakers want tougher punishments for those caught trying to seduce children online.

Too often, they say, cases are emerging across Ohio where child predators are caught, arrested and convicted only to be sentenced to probation instead of prison time.

While the exact number of these cases is hard to pinpoint, they acknowledge, State Representatives Tim Schaffer and Kent Smith announced Wednesday they will re-introduce a bill aimed at bringing mandatory prison sentences for those convicted of importuning.

"Our constituents, our families are saying they want tougher sentences for these crimes," Rep. Schaffer said during a Wednesday news conference at the statehouse.

It's a problem 10 Investigates first uncovered in 2014.

Our report at the time highlighted several cases where convicted child predators were caught and convicted but sentenced to probation in lieu of prison time. Why?

Depending on the circumstances, some defendants were caught in online police sting operations where officers were pretending to be the would-be victims of sex crimes.

The stings would sometimes result in online discussions that would, in some cases, result in the suspects traveling to certain locations where they thought they might encounter an underage child for sex.

While the sting operations would net an arrest, some judges felt the crimes had no true victims.

But those attending Wednesday's news conference carried a mantra repeated by Rep. Schaffer: "thank God it was a cop."

Their argument: the sting operations prevented another Ohio child from being victimized and the suspects in these cases showed intent by engaging in lewd discussions online or by traveling to meet who they thought was a child.

The bill would require those convicted of importuning to be sentenced to a minimum of 6 to 9 months in prison, Schaffer said.

The timeline depends on what felony was committed and the bill language applies to more than just those caught in police sting operations.

It also applies to those convicted of crimes involving actual child victims.

The circumstances vary, but Rep. Smith pointed out no less than 10 suspects in Cuyahoga County in recent years who were convicted but given probation.

The bill is being re-introduced after it failed to pass the General Assembly when it was first introduced in 2015.