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Daily Court Reporter - News Supreme Court of Ohio considers whether resentencing hearing was conducted properly for man on death row

 

Supreme Court of Ohio considers whether resentencing hearing was conducted properly for man on death row

Dan Trevas, Supreme Court of Ohio

The Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday, June 12th, heard three oral arguments, including an argument from a man on death row who contends that his sentencing hearing was tainted when the court failed to empanel a new jury.

Oral Arguments Scheduled

The session started at 9 a.m. with the cases being heard at the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center in Columbus. All arguments are streamed live online at sc.ohio.gov and broadcast live and archived on The Ohio Channel.

Summaries Available

Below is a summary of the three arguments that were heard on June 12th. Along with the descriptions in this article, the Office of Public Information has released in-depth summaries of the cases available online at: http://www.courtnewsohio.gov/cases/previews/18/0508/0508.asp#.WumvV5ch2Uk

State of Ohio v. James R. Goff, Case no. 2017-0021

Twelfth District Court of Appeals (Clinton County)

ISSUES:

Was the appellant denied the right to a fair trial when the trial court refused to empanel a new jury for a new sentencing proceeding?

Did the trial court improperly exclude additional mitigating evidence?

Did the trial lawyers provide ineffective assistance by failing to adequately prepare their client for his unsworn statement and by failing to submit additional mitigating evidence from their client’s institutional file?

Were the appellant’s constitutional rights violated when the death sentence was imposed, in part, based on information he had no opportunity to deny or explain?

BACKGROUND:

James R. Goff was indicted for the 1994 murder of 88-year-old Myrtle Rutledge in Wilmington. A home furnishings store employed Goff to make furniture deliveries. After making a delivery to Rutledge’s home, Goff returned and fatally beat and stabbed her.

A jury convicted Goff of aggravated murder, aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery, and grand theft and recommended the death penalty. In August 1995, the trial court accepted the recommendation and sentenced Goff to death. The Twelfth District Court of Appeals and the Ohio Supreme Court upheld his convictions and sentence.

Following multiple appeals and motions, Goff asked the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to review 17 claims. In April 2010, the Sixth Circuit determined that Goff’s legal representation at the state appellate level, in the Twelfth District Court of Appeals, was ineffective because the lawyer didn’t raise an issue about Goff not making an unsworn statement, or allocution, at trial. The Sixth Circuit stated it would grant Goff’s request for a writ of habeas corpus unless Ohio courts reopened Goff’s direct appeal in the Twelfth District within 120 days to allow his counsel to raise the allocution issue.

The Twelfth District reopened the appeal, ruled that the trial court failed to provide Goff his right to make a statement, and returned the case to the trial court for resentencing.

At the resentencing hearing in June 2015, the trial court refused to allow a psychologist to testify on Goff’s behalf but allowed discussion of the psychologist’s report. The court then offered Goff his right to allocution, and he made a brief statement.

In its ruling, the trial court stated it considered all the prior trial transcripts as well as mitigating factors presented at the original trial and the resentencing hearing, including Goff’s allocution. Deciding that the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating factors beyond a reasonable doubt, the court reimposed the death penalty and sentenced him again on the other counts.

Goff appealed to the Twelfth District, which rejected his arguments and upheld the trial court’s judgment and sentence. Goff filed an appeal with the Ohio Supreme Court, which is required to review his claims.

Ohio Northern University v. Charles Construction Services v. KCL Framing LLC, et al., Case no. 2017-0514

Third District Court of Appeals (Hancock County)

ISSUE:

Does a “products-completed operations hazard” provision of a commercial general liability insurance policy cover claims of defective construction or workmanship by a subcontractor?

BACKGROUND:

The parties in this lawsuit are asking the Supreme Court to determine if its 2012 decision in Westfield Ins. Co. v. Custom Agri Systems applies to this dispute regarding the faulty workmanship of subcontractors on a large-scale project. The case has drawn the interest of statewide organizations representing the insurance industry and construction contractors, which filed amicus curiae briefs supporting the opposing sides.

In 2008, Ohio Northern University (ONU) contracted with Charles Construction Services to construct a new luxury hotel and conference center on the campus called “The Inn.” As part of the terms of the contract, Charles Construction promised to perform all the work on The Inn by itself or through subcontractors for which it would be responsible for their work. The contract also required Charles Construction to maintain a commercial general liability insurance policy (CGL) that included a “completed operations” clause, which would cover any construction defects discovered after completion of the project.

Charles Construction purchased the insurance policy from Cincinnati Insurance Company. The project, with an original construction cost of about $8 million, was completed in October 2008. In September 2011, ONU became aware of water and moisture damage from hidden leaks caused by defective work by Charles Construction’s subcontractors. ONU spent nearly $6 million to repair the damages.

In 2012, ONU filed a lawsuit against Charles Construction in Hancock County Common Pleas Court for breach of contract and other violations of their agreement. Charles Construction then filed a complaint against multiple subcontractors, claiming they should be responsible for compensating ONU for the damages.

Charles Construction submitted an insurance claim with Cincinnati Insurance, seeking legal representation and to indemnify the contractor for any damages that might be awarded to ONU. Cincinnati Insurance agreed to provide a legal defense, but reserved its rights to claim that the general liability policy sold to Charles Construction doesn’t carry coverage for its claim. In 2013, Cincinnati Insurance sought a declaratory judgment asking the court to find that the insurer doesn’t have to defend or indemnify Charles Construction because under the Ohio Supreme Court’s Custom Agri Systems decision, it had the right to deny the contractor’s claim. Both ONU and Charles Construction contested the move by Cincinnati Insurance. In 2015, the trial court ruled that, based on Custom Agri Systems, Cincinnati Insurance could deny the claim and wasn’t obligated to defend Charles Construction.

ONU and the contractor appealed to the Third District Court of Appeals, which ruled that Custom Agri Systems remains good law as applied to construction defects caused by a contractor. However, the policy and the inclusion of a “products-completed operations hazard” clause could apply to defective work by subcontractors whose damage to the property is discovered after construction is completed, the appeals court ruled. It reversed the trial court’s decision, and Cincinnati Insurance appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.

State of Ohio v. Edwin A. Vega, Case no. 2017-0618

Eighth District Court of Appeals (Cuyahoga County)

ISSUE:

Was the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure violated during a traffic stop when police found drugs and extended the detention of the driver to further search his car?

BACKGROUND:

Edwin A. Vega was stopped by a Cleveland State University police officer at approximately 11 a.m. on March 28, 2015. The officer, Jeffrey Madej, saw Vega’s car turn left through a red light and initiated the stop.

When Madej approached the car, he smelled a strong odor of raw marijuana. Madej, who was wearing a body camera, asked Vega to exit the vehicle to conduct a search of the car. The officer opened the car’s center console and found several raw buds of marijuana, “shake weed” or particles of loose marijuana, and a package labeled “Sweet Stone Candy.” The officer also found three cell phones in different locations in the car. In the backseat of Vega’s car, Madej found rolling papers and a box holding several aerosol containers and two white, unlabeled, sealed envelopes. Vega told the officer the envelopes contained stickers and declined to give consent to the police to open them.

Madej discussed the situation with other law enforcement officials, including the Ohio State Highway Patrol. No units with dogs that search for and identify narcotics were available.

The officer issued traffic and drug possession citations and then opened the envelopes. Inside were three large, clear baggies filled with individually wrapped packs of Sweet Stone Candy. The candy was later found to test positive for THC, the main psychoactive component in marijuana. Vega had been detained for one hour, 12 minutes before his arrest.

Vega was indicted for drug possession, drug trafficking, and possessing criminal tools. Vega asked the trial court to suppress evidence found in the search. In January 2016, the court agreed not to admitas evidence the 150 packs of candy found in the envelopes, concluding that Vega was held for an unreasonable amount of time and the sealed envelopes from the backseat were opened while he was being unconstitutionally detained.

The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office appealed the decision to the Eighth District Court of Appeals. In February 2017, the appeals court upheld the trial court’s suppression of the evidence found in the envelopes. The length of the stop was unconstitutional, and the officer had no probable cause to open the envelopes, the Eighth District found.

The prosecutor appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, which agreed to review the issue.

Date Published: June 21, 2018

 

Supreme Court of Ohio

 

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