Overwhelming Evidence Identified Alleged Perpetrator
The Ohio Supreme Court has unanimously reversed an appeals court decision that there was insufficient evidence proving a man’s identity in a kidnapping at a Cuyahoga County library.
Today’s decision sends James Tate II’s appeal back to the Eighth District Court of Appeals.
On February 12, 2011, a 14-year-old girl, identified as B.P., went to the Euclid Public Library with two friends. After her friends entered the library, a man approached B.P., gave her a business card, and told her about a study group meeting by some nearby tennis courts. B.P. walked with the man to the entrance of a nearby pool, and it was there that B.P. said the man asked her to perform a sexual act. B.P.’s phone buzzed, and she told the man her mother was back at the library. They both returned to the library where B.P. found her friends. After hearing what had transpired, her friends encouraged B.P. to go to the police.
The girls made a report at the Euclid police station, and an officer who had been stationed outside the library went back to look for the man. The officer had police dispatch call the phone number on the business card, and James Tate II answered his cell. The officer confirmed that the phone’s number matched the number he had given B.P. on a flier, and Tate was arrested.
Tate was found guilty of kidnapping, importuning, gross sexual imposition, and public indecency, and the court sentenced him to seven years in prison.
Tate appealed to the Eighth District, which reversed the trial court and overturned Tate’s conviction. The appellate court noted that neither the victim nor her friends identified or were asked to identify Tate as the perpetrator in their testimony during trial. The Eighth District concluded that there was not sufficient evidence that Tate was the man they referred to in their testimony.
In the Supreme Court’s 7-0 opinion, Justice Judith L. French wrote that “no fact was more established at Tate’s trial than Tate’s identity,” including Tate’s own admission to police and in testimony during the trial that he was the man who approached the teen, walked with her to pool, and asked her to perform a sexual act.
“Even if we were to ignore Tate’s statements or the witnesses who identified him in the courtroom, any rational fact-finder could have found proof of his identity as the perpetrator based on the real evidence in the record, including the library’s surveillance video, the two ID cards, and the fliers that Tate gave the girls bearing his name,” Justice French explained.
In addition to reversing the court of appeals decision because the evidence of Tate’s identity was “overwhelming,” the Supreme Court also reversed because neither his lawyers nor the prosecution argued that fact.
“[A]ppellate courts should not decide cases on the basis of a new, unbriefed issue without ‘giv[ing] the parties notice of its intention and an opportunity to brief the issue,’” Justice French concluded, citing from the 1988 case State v. 1981 Dodge Ram Van.
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