Welcome to The Briefcase

Commentary and analysis of Ohio criminal law and whatever else comes to mind, served with a dash of snark.  Continue Reading »

×

Goodbye to Special Prosecutors

Criminal defendants batted 1.000 in three decisions from the Ohio Supreme Court this week -- more on that on Monday.  They took it on the chin in in the oral argument on State v. Barker, which I discussed yesterday, but they rebounded strongly the next day in State v. Davis. 

Hell, maybe I oughta write a sports column.

Davis was pretty much a lock to be a winner anyway, since it came up from one of the most inexplicable appellate decisions I've ever seen.  Roland Davis was convicted of aggravated murder in 2005 and sentenced to death.  His appeal and sentence was affirmed by the Supreme Court in January of 2008.  In October of that year, Davis filed a motion for new trial on the basis of newly discovered evidence, relating to the DNA evidence presented at trial.  The trial court denied the motion, finding that Davis had failed to demonstrate that he could not have discovered it within the normal timeframe of 180 days from the verdict, and that in any event the new evidence would not have changed the outcome of the trial.

Davis appealed, and here's where things got funky.  Instead of reviewing the trial judge's decision, the 5th District decided that the trial court never had jurisdiction to act on the motion, because of the 1978 Ohio Supreme Court decision in State ex. rel Special Prosecutors v. JudgesYou may have seen the case before; it's frequently cited for the proposition that a trial court loses jurisdiction over a case once an appeal is filed.

But Special Prosecutors had a more particular twist.  The defendant in that case, Ronald Asher, had pled guilty to murder.  He filed an appeal, alleging several defects in the plea, but the court of appeals affirmed.  At that point, Asher filed a motion to withdraw his plea, which the trial court granted.  Special prosecutors had been appointed to handle the trial, and intended to appeal that ruling, but screwed up and missed the deadline.  (Maybe they were that kind of "special" prosecutor.)  Instead, they filed a writ of prohibition with the appellate court, seeking to stop the trial court from proceeding with the case.  The appellate court denied the writ, but the Supreme Court reversed, finding that "the trial court's granting of the motion to withdraw the guilty plea and the order to proceed with a new trial were inconsistent with the judgment of the Court of Appeals affirming the trial court's conviction premised upon the guilty plea."

Now, that makes sense:  if you plead guilty, appeal on the basis that the judge shouldn't have accepted the plea, and lose, you shouldn't be able to go back to the trial court and file a motion to vacate the plea on the same basis as the arguments that the court of appeals have rejected.  But Special Prosecutors has been read more broadly:  that once the case is appealed, the trial court loses jurisdiction over it, even after the appeal has been decided.  That's the reading the 5th District gave it in Davis.

Other courts have done the same, but not in the context of a motion for new trial on the basis of newly discovered evidence.  In fact, the 5th District's reading of Special Prosecutors in this fashion effectively nullifies the possibility of a trial court ever granting a motion for new trial on that basis, since that motion would almost always have to be filed after an appeal.  To avoid that effect, which would obviously have due process ramifications, the State in Davis argued that the proper procedure was for the defendant to apply to the superior court for a remand to the trial court to determine the motion.

Oh, and one more thing:  since the 1993 amendment to the Ohio Constitution required all death penalty appeals to go directly the Supreme Court, that meant the Supreme Court was the "superior court" from which remand would be sought.  (That was actually the issue that the court had ordered briefing on:  whether the amendment was directed only at direct appeals, not appeals on collateral remedies.)  But only from here on out, the prosecutor explained in oral argument.  For the last 17 years, the appellate courts have in fact been handling these types of post-conviction proceedings; a ruling that those cases should have gone to the Supreme Court instead, and that the appellate courts' decisions are void because they didn't have jurisdiction, the prosecutor freely acknowledged, would cause absolute havoc.

All this was just too nuts for the justices.  Davis' attorney breezed through his oral argument without a single question, leaving himself an unheard-of 10 minutes for rebuttal.  The prosecutor?  Not so good.  How could the court make a jurisdictional ruling and limit it to only prospective application, wondered Justice Cupp?  How, Chief Justice O'Connor asked, would the Supreme Court make a determination of whether a remand should be granted so that a motion for new trial could be filed, in the absence of any record?

There's little question that the court's going to hold that appeals from post-conviction relief petitions and new trial motions can go through the appellate courts; that's how it's been done, and given the problems the court's had with some of its other ventures into the area of "void" judgments, it has little stomach for another foray.  But the decision should also result in a needed clarification of Special Prosecutors:  the trial court will retain jurisdiction over any matters not ruled upon by the appellate court.

Search

Recent Entries

  • May 25, 2017
    "Clarifying" post-release controls
    A look at the Supreme Court's decision in State v. Grimes
  • May 23, 2017
    What's Up in the 8th
    Allied offenses, and two search cases
  • May 23, 2017
    What's Up in the 8th
    Allied offenses, and two search cases
  • May 22, 2017
    Case Update
    Is SCOTUS looking for a forfeiture case? Plus, appellate decisions on expungement and restitution, plain error, and what a judge has to tell a defendant about sex registration
  • May 19, 2017
    What's Up in the 8th - Part II
    Decisions on lineups and prior calculation and design, and two out of eight (eight!) pro se defendants come up winners,
  • May 17, 2017
    What's Up in the 8th - Part I
    Taking a first look at some of the 8th District's decisions over the past two weeks
  • May 16, 2017
    Case Update
    Stock tips, Federal sentencing reform goes dormant, schoolbag searches, and the retroactivity of State v. Hand
  • May 8, 2017
    Case Update
    Death in Arkansas, a worrisome disciplinary decision, and appellate cases on speedy trial, arson registration, use of prior testimony, and the futility of post-conviction relief
  • May 2, 2017
    What's Up in the 8th
    Nothing but sex
  • May 1, 2017
    Case Update
    SCOTUS closes out oral argument for the Term, the Ohio Supreme Court has seven of them this week, and we report on a decision where you'll probably want to play Paul Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years" in the background while you read about it