What's on tap in Columbus
No, I'm not talking about the Marc "Drag Me Out Kicking and Screaming" Dann Deathwatch, where Vegas has pegged the over/under on his resignation at four days. I'm talking about what's going on at the Ohio Supreme Court, where eight cases are being argued this week. A thumbnail sketch of the big ones (links are to the court of appeals' opinion):
State v. Ferguson. The application of sexual offender registration and notification (SORN) requirements to defendants whose crimes were committed before the law went into effect has been the subject of much comment and litigation. Back in 1998 in State v. Cook, the Ohio Supreme Court held that such laws weren't ex post facto if applied retroactively, because they weren't intended to be punitive. Ferguson asks the Court to take another look at that issue, with the defendant arguing that the SORN laws are now so harsh that they have to be considered as punitive. This could have some substantial ramifications, especially in light of the passage of the Adam Walsh Act here in Ohio, which resulted in the reclassification of some 18,000 sexually oriented offenders, who were previously required to register once a year for ten years; over 80% of them saw their registration periods increase under the new law. And for many of those, their registration period had already expired.
State v. Bartholomew. Appeal by the state on the burning question of whether a trial court can order restitution to be paid to the Ohio Victims of Crime Fund for money they paid to the victim.
State v. Mays. You know all those bullshit traffic stops resulting from the cop seeing the defendant's car go ever so slightly over the line on the right-hand side of the road? Well, as the Chambers Brothers once sang, Time Has Come Today. A certified conflict case, where the question that's been certified says it all: "May a police officer who witnesses a motorist cross a right white edge line and without any further evidence of erratic driving or that the crossing was done in an unsafe manner make a constitutional stop of the motorist?"
State v. Veney. Another certified case. Criminal Rule 11(C) requires a trial court taking a plea in a felony case advise the defendant that by pleading guilty he's waiving certain rights:
the rights to jury trial, to confront witnesses against him or her, to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in the defendant's favor, and to require the state to prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at a trial at which the defendant cannot be compelled to testify against himself or herself.
The courts have consistently held that "strict compliance" is required for advising a defendant of his constitutional rights, while only "substantial compliance" is required for the non-constitutional requirements. In Veney, the court of appeals determined that the "beyond a reasonable doubt" part was a constitutional requirement, and vacated the plea because the judge didn't advise the defendant of that.
State v. Swann. The defendant on trial for felonious assault tried to present evidence that another person had confessed to the shooting, but the trial court excluded it because it didn't meet the corroboration requirements of hearsay rule pertaining to declarations against interest. The 10th District reversed, finding that the court's ruling effectively deprived the defendant of his 6th Amendment right to present a defense. The State argues that a judge's general discretion in determininig what evidence is admissible doesn't impact the defendant's constitutional rights, but that argument is complicated by the US Supreme Court's decision a couple years back in Holmes v. South Carolina. In Holmes, as in Swann, the defendant had attempted to present evidence that another party had committed the crimes. In Holmes, as in Swann, the court had excluded the evidence. The South Carolina rule barred evidence of third-party guilty if it "merely casts a bare suspicion" on another person. That's not too much different from a rule which allows a judge to exclude evidence because he feels it wasn't sufficiently corroborated.
With the exception of Bartholomew, all of those cases are significant ones. I'm going to catch the oral arguments over the next couple days, and give you my further impressions after that.