A state prison inmate who has been eligible for a parole hearing since 2016 is not eligible for a court-ordered hearing because he submitted incomplete paperwork, the Supreme Court ruled today. from Ohio.
The Supreme Court denied a writ of habeas corpus to DeWitt McDonald Jr., an inmate at Richland Correctional Institution. McDonald asked the Supreme Court for an order to release him after an Erie County judge first ordered his release, but later overturned that order after the Ohio Attorney General challenged the court’s decision. judge.
In an opinion by Curiam, the Court dismissed McDonald’s claim based on Richland Correctional Institution Warden Kenneth Black’s assertion that McDonald’s failed to attach his recognizance documents, such as the demands the RC 2725.04(D).
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Sharon L. Kennedy, Patrick F. Fischer, R. Patrick DeWine, Melody Stewart and Jennifer Brunner joined the opinion.
Judge Michael P. Donnelly agreed and noted that the court’s decision does not prevent McDonald from refiling his habeas corpus petition.
Wrongly calculated sentence, detainee maintained
McDonald was convicted of aggravated murder and other crimes in 1994 in Erie County. He appealed to the Sixth District Court of Appeals, which upheld his conviction in 1997 and determined from the trial court’s entry that he was sentenced to life. McDonald continued to appeal his conviction, and in later rulings the Sixth District listed his actual sentence as “life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for 20 years.”
In November 2020, the Erie County Court of Common Pleas granted a request for clarification of McDonald’s sentence and determined that McDonald was eligible for parole after 20 years. McDonald has maintained that he has been eligible for parole since at least 2016, if not earlier, and filed a habeas corpus petition in Erie County in December 2021.
In March 2022, the trial court granted the request and ordered McDonald’s immediate release from prison. After the attorney general’s office challenged the release, the trial judge overturned the order. McDonald asked the Supreme Court for his release.
McDonald argued that the parole authority violated his due process rights by not offering him a parole hearing when he was eligible. This violation gives him the right to be released from prison, or for the court to order the parole board to hold a hearing to consider releasing him, McDonald argued.
Incomplete documents, director said
Black argued that RC 2725.04(D) requires McDonald’s to include its “undertaking documents” with its habeas corpus petition. McDonald only attached the first page of his 1995 Erie County Court of Common Pleas sentencing entry.
He also included an affidavit from his lawyer’s staff member, who wrote that numerous attempts to obtain the document had failed due to his age.
The director responded that the law firm had not indicated whether it had attempted to obtain a copy of the sentence entry from the Erie County Court Clerk. The state also noted that entry was filed electronically in two federal cases initiated by McDonald’s.
McDonald argued that he was not required to attach his sentencing entry. He claimed the law speaks of “undertaking documents” and does not specify that an “entry of judgment” is required. He maintained that he had provided enough documents to meet the requirements of the law.
Requirement for documents reviewed by the Supreme Court
The court opinion said the term “recognizance documents” does not actually appear in the law, but rather requires a copy of the detainee’s “recognizance or cause of detention”. The Court ruled that “the recognizance or cause of detention” includes all relevant documents that caused the inmate’s recognizance, “including conviction entries and parole revocation decisions.”
Because McDonald admits he made no attempt to locate his conviction entry, his motion does not offer a legitimate justification for failing to comply with the law, the court found. The Court rejected his request because he did not include the required documents.
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