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Ohio high court strikes down child enticement law

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Ohio Supreme Court on Thursday struck down the state's child enticement law, 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," she wrote.

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.

Last year, a state appeals court in Akron threw out the conviction of a man accused under the same law of trying to entice a 13-year-old girl to be his Facebook friend.

Justice Judith French and Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor dissented.

French questioned the majority's position that the law prohibits "a substantial amount" of protected expression. She also disagreed with the majority's approach to the word "solicit."

"When reading the word 'solicit' with its neighboring operative verbs — 'coax, entice or lure' — one can reasonably find a more sinister connotation," French wrote.

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