Resentencing for Postrelease Control Cannot Be Imposed if an Offender Has Already Completed Prison Term
A trial court cannot resentence an offender to postrealease control if the offender has already served his prison time for the offense – even if the offender remains in prison for other offenses, the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled today.
Based on today’s decision in a Wyandot County case, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the appeals court and remanded the case to the trial court to vacate the imposition of postrelease control.
In September 1999, Henry Holdcroft was convicted of aggravated arson and arson, first- and third-degree felonies. Both offenses were charged in the same indictment. The trial court sentenced him to a 10-year prison term for aggravated arson and a five-year term for arson to be served consecutively. At sentencing, the trial court noted that Holdcroft would be subject to post-release control, but did not specifically impose a five-year term of postrelease control that was mandatory for his first-degree felony.
In December 2009, after Holdcroft had served 10 years for aggravated arson but remained in prison to serve the arson sentence, the state filed a motion to conduct a resentencing hearing to impose the postrelease control it failed to impose in 1999. In January 2010, over Holdcroft’s objection, the court conducted a new sentencing hearing, reimposed the same consecutive prison terms, and added five years of post-release control for aggravated arson and an optional three years for arson.
Holdcroft appealed to the Third District Court of Appeals, which affirmed the trial court’s resentencing order. The Third District subsequently certified that its holding in this case was in conflict with a decision of the Eighth District Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court agreed to review the case to resolve the conflict between appellate districts.
Today’s 5-2 decision, authored by Justice William M. O’Neill, noted that “this court has consistently and repeatedly held that a trial court loses jurisdiction to resentence a defendant for the purpose of imposing postrelease control once the defendant has served his entire sentence of incarceration.”
In a series of prior Supreme Court cases, Justice O’Neill pointed to “the role that a defendant’s legitimate expectation of finality (of his sentence) plays in constraining a court’s authority to review a sentence.”
For future reference, he wrote, three principles provide a framework for cases concerning the imposition of postrelease conrol.
“First, when a sentence is subject to direct review, it may be modified; second, when the prison-sanction portion of a sentence that also includes a void sanction has not been completely served, the void sanction may be modified; and third, when the entirety of a prison sanction has been served, the defendant’s expectation of interest in finality in his sentence becomes paramount, and his sentence for that crime can no longer be modified.”
“Put another way,” Justice O’Neill continued, “either the defendant or the state may challenge any aspect of a sentence so long as a timely appeal is filed. But once the time for filing an appeal has run, Ohio courts are limited to correcting a void sanction. And once the prison-sanction portion of a sentence for a crime has been fully served, the structure of Ohio felony sentencing law and the defendant’s legitimate expectation in finality in his sentence prevent a court from further modifying the sentence for that crime in any way.”
Calling it “irrelevant” whether the offender is still in prison for other offenses, Justice O’Neill concluded that “Although it is true that some other sanctions (such as restitution) may yet be outstanding, a sentence served is a sentence completed.”
Joining Justice O’Neill in the majority were Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Paul E. Pfeifer and Judith L. French. Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger concurred in judgment only.
In her concurring opinion, Justice Lanzinger wrote that she disagreed with the majority’s discussion of “void sanctions” and that the case can be resolved simply by retroactively applying R.C. 2929.191.
She summarized R.C. 2929.191 as enacting “a procedure whereby postrelease control may be properly authorized and given effect, even though initial notification was inadequate, if the offender has not been released from prison ‘under the prison term the court imposed.’ The statute refers to completion of the ‘prison term the court imposed’ as a time limitation for the correction to be made.”
“More than ten years after Holdcroft was originally sentenced, the state filed a motion under R.C. 2929.191 for the court to modify his sentence for aggravated arson to include the postrelease-control sanctions that had been omitted by the court. Holdcroft’s appeal time had run, and moreover, he had completed his ten-year prison term for aggravated arson. He therefore had a legitimate expectation in the finality of that sentence, and no additional punishment could be imposed without running afoul of the Double Jeopardy Clause as well as R.C. 2929.191.”
Justices Terrence O’Donnell and Sharon L. Kennedy dissented and would affirm the judgment of the court of appeals.
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