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Court News Ohio

Interstate Prisoner Transfer Agreement Applies to Those Incarcerated in County Jails

A statute governing the transfer of prisoners between states to deal with pending charges in another jurisdiction applies to inmates who have begun serving sentences in county jails, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled today.

The law incorporates an interstate compact that allows a jurisdiction to bring a person to trial on pending charges when he or she is incarcerated in another state. In a 5-2 decision, the court determined that the phrase “penal or correctional institution of a party state” as used in the agreement includes county jails.

The opinion, written by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, affirmed the judgment of the Fifth District Court of Appeals and resolves a conflict among appeals courts in the state.

Compact Among States
The Interstate Agreement on Detainers (IAD), adopted in Ohio in 1969, is an agreement among the federal government, 48 states, and the District of Columbia. The compact’s provisions are reflected in R.C. 2963.30.

The agreement helps with the “expeditious and orderly disposition” of pending criminal charges and provides cooperative procedures for interstate transfers. It aims to ensure speedy-trial rights and to minimize interference with prisoner rehabilitation. The procedures set timeframes for bringing prisoners to trial once a request for transfer has been made by a prisoner or a prosecutor.

One section of the statute and the IAD states that it applies to a defendant who has started a term of imprisonment “in a penal or correctional institution of a party state.”

Black’s Criminal Charges in Multiple Jurisdictions
James D. Black was awaiting sentencing in a Maryland county jail in August 2010 when he was notified of pending criminal charges filed in Ashland, Richland, and Franklin counties in Ohio. In February 2011, he began serving a one-year sentence in a county detention center in Maryland.

Black was transferred in May 2011 under the IAD from that facility to Richland County to address charges there of receiving stolen property, forgery, and tampering with evidence. While awaiting resolution of his case in Richland County, he was transported to Ashland County for arraignment on charges of theft and breaking and entering. He was returned to Richland County for sentencing.

Before his trial was held in Ashland County, Black was sent on August 1, 2011, back to the Maryland county detention facility.

Black asked that the Ashland County case be dismissed because he was not prosecuted in the timeframe required by R.C. 2963.30. He testified that he could not participate in drug treatment or community programs and was ineligible for parole in Maryland because the Ashland County charges were unresolved. The trial court denied his request.

Eventually returning to Ohio, Black was arrested in Medina County and then re-indicted in Ashland County. Following trial, he was convicted and sentenced to a year in prison.

He appealed to the Fifth District, which reversed the conviction, concluding that the IAD timeframes applied to Black while he was in Maryland’s county jail. The Fifth District notified the Ohio Supreme Court that its decision conflicted with one from the Eighth District Court of Appeals.

The Supreme Court agreed and accepted an appeal from the state. The court combined the two cases for consideration.

Supreme Court’s Analysis
While prisons (state-run facilities) and jails (operated by counties) are distinct in Ohio, Chief Justice O’Connor pointed out that the IAD did not use either of those terms. In addition, neither the IAD nor the Ohio Revised Code define “penal institution” or “correctional institution,” she noted.

The court reasoned that the meaning of “penal or correctional institution in a party state” is ambiguous in the interstate agreement. Chief Justice O’Connor explained the interpretations of this language from various courts throughout the country as well as the split among Ohio appeals courts.

Noting that the IAD is required to be liberally construed to put the purposes of the agreement into effect, she concluded, “The dual purposes of the statute — expeditious and orderly disposition of detainers filed in other jurisdictions and cooperative procedures for inmate transfers — are best furthered by a broad application of the IAD to any prisoner serving his or her sentence regardless of the facility in which that sentence is being served. Accordingly, we conclude that the term ‘penal or correctional institution of a party state’ in R.C. 2963.30 can encompass a county jail as well as a state prison or correctional facility so long as the prisoner has begun serving his or her sentence.”

“The uniformity we accomplish here is to resolve the conflict between our appellate courts by interpreting the intent of the General Assembly in enacting the IAD with the purpose of providing guidance to state authorities and any defendant with charges pending here,” she added. “In the absence of uniform federal guidance on the present issue, we must interpret the language of R.C. 2963.30 to effectuate the intent of the General Assembly in adopting the IAD.”

Joining Chief Justice O’Connor’s opinion were Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Judith Ann Lanzinger, Judith L. French, and William M. O’Neill.

Justice Terrence O’Donnell dissented in an opinion joined by Justice Sharon L. Kennedy.

Justice O’Donnell concluded that “penal or correctional institution of a party state” does not include county jails.

“In Article III(a), R.C. 2963.30, the General Assembly used the prepositional phrase ‘of a party state’ to modify “penal or correctional institution,” thereby indicating that the penal or correctional institution belongs to, relates to, or is connected with the state,” he concluded. “A plain reading of Ohio’s version of Article III(a) shows that a penal or correctional facility of a political subdivision is not included within its scope.”

2013-0552 and 2013-0805. State v. Black, Slip Opinion No. 2015-Ohio-513.

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