Shows what I know. Two weeks ago, Ariel Castro was arraigned on 977 counts of aggravated murder, rape, kidnapping, felonious assault, and various other crimes relating to his holding hostage three women in his basement for parts of four presidential administrations. Last Thursday, I suggested that was overkill, and inconsistent with County Prosecutor Tim McGinty's vow to make the criminal justice system more efficient. The next day, Castro pled guilty to all but 40 of the charges, and agreed to a sentence of life without parole plus 1,000 years in prison.
My first reaction was that we'd become Texas, and I hadn't gotten the memo. I kind of imagined the meeting of McGinty and his advisors on the plea deal to have gone something like this:
Still, everyone involved in the case deserves some credit here. Castro got some benefit from the deal, in that McGinty agreed not to pursue capital charges. For the death penalty's dwindling band of supporters, it does show that capital punishment has some settlement value; in fact, the defense lawyers couldn't have recommended the deal in good conscience had it not been for that. The life without parole sentence assures that Castro won't see the light of day as a free man, and the 1,000-year sentence appropriately reflects the community's reaction to the horrific nature of Castro's conduct. Above all, a just result was achieved within less than three months after Castro's arrest. That's efficiency. It certainly stands in marked contrast to the debacle of Anthony Sowell's case; the case involving his murdering 11 women and hiding their bodies in his home took nearly two years to wend its way through the courts. To be sure, taking a death sentence off the table for Sowell was an entirely different matter, but obtaining it was probably nothing more than an exercise in symbolism: he turns 54 next month, two weeks after Billy Slagle, presently on Ohio's death row, is scheduled to be executed for a crime he committed 27 years ago. You do the math.
SCOTUS is in recess, and its Ohio counterpart didn't hand down anything we'd find notable, so let's take a look at the court of appeals decisions...
In State v. Ruff, the 1st District tackles the question of whether the aggravated burglary merged with the rapes that Ruff committed after he'd entered the homes of three women and raped them. As the court notes, prior to the Supreme Court's 2010 decision in State v. Johnson, this would have been easily resolved: courts had consistently held that they were separate offenses. But under Johnson, a court is required to look at the defendant's conduct, and here the majority finds that the rapes are the conduct that satisfies both those crimes and the "causing serious physical harm" element of aggravated burglary. Other courts have come to different conclusions, and the dissent makes a legitimate argument that the two offenses were indeed separate: one involved a violation of the sanctity of the home, and the other the sanctity of the person. Still, if you've got a case involving aggravated burglary and another offense, this is the case to look at for the allied offenses argument.
The 6th District, though, comes to the opposite conclusion in State v. Overton. Overton had broken into a house, then robbed the owner at gunpoint when he returned. Relying on past cases, the court finds that there are two separate offenses: "the commission of the aggravated burglary is complete once the perpetrator enters the residence with a weapon and with the intent to commit a crime therein. The aggravated robbery occurs after entry into the home when the perpetrator encounters the victim inside the home and steals something from him by force or threat of force with a deadly weapon."
Speaking of allied offenses, when does discharging a firearm merge with felonious assault? The 2nd District takes a look at this in State v. Woodum. Although the cases seem split, the 2nd detects a pattern: "Generally speaking, evidence that a defendant fired a large number of shots or 'shot up' a residence tends to support a finding of a separate animus." Since the occupants had reported that that's exactly what Woodum did, the convictions don't merge.
Some things you might need to know. A Pelfrey error -- the failure of the verdict form to specify the degree of the offense or the aggravating elements, thus reducing the conviction to the lowest degree for that offense -- renders a conviction voidable, not void; it has to be addressed on appeal, or it's res judicata, says the 2nd District in State v. Handcock... Does the trial court have to advise a defendant about post-release controls if it sentences him to community control sanctions? No, says the 8th District in State v. Oulhint; it need do so only upon imposing a prison sentence for a violation... A defendant resentenced after HB 86 went into effect is entitled to the benefits of its provisions, even if the offense occurred before that, but not if the purpose of the resentencing is merely to properly impose post-release controls, the 12th District says in State v. Provens...