Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Convicted Man Cannot Use Recent Ohio Supreme Court Decision to Challenge His Sentence

The state statute authorizing a trial court to vacate a sentence based on a new decision from the U.S. Supreme Court does not apply to a new decision from the Ohio Supreme Court, the state high court ruled today.

A divided Ohio Supreme Court ruled that state law did not permit Corey J. Parker to file a postconviction relief petition based on the 2016 State v. Hand decision, and he may not challenge his mandatory 8-year sentence. Writing the Court’s lead opinion, Justice Sharon L. Kennedy stated that Ohio lawmakers provided limited exceptions to the postconviction relief statute’s prohibition against multiple or untimely challenges to criminal sentences, and a decision from the Ohio Supreme Court was not among those exceptions.

Justice R. Patrick DeWine joined Justice Kennedy’s opinion.

Justices Patrick F. Fischer and Judith L. French concurred in judgment only

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Michael P. Donnelly and Melody J. Stewart dissented, each with separate written opinions.

Juvenile Delinquency Adjudication Enhanced Later Adult Sentence
In 2011, Parker pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery and having a weapon illegally. The robbery charge carried a specification to enhance the sentence based on a prior conviction. Parker‘s prior juvenile adjudication for a felonious assault was treated as a prior conviction, and a Cuyahoga County trial court imposed a mandatory 8-year sentence.

The Eighth District Court of Appeals rejected his argument that R.C. 2901.08(A) was unconstitutional because it treated a prior juvenile court adjudication the same as a prior adult criminal offense for the purpose of enhancing his sentence. In 2013, he appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, which declined to review his case.

In 2016, the Court ruled in Hand that R.C. 2901.08(A) violates the due process clauses of the Ohio Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution because it is “fundamentally unfair” to treat a juvenile adjudication the same as a criminal conviction. (See Using Juvenile Offense to Enhance Adult Crime Prison Sentence is Unconstitutional.)

Second Attempt to Invalidate Sentence
Arguing that the decision in the Hand case should also apply to his case, Parker filed a motion in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court to vacate his mandatory sentence. The trial court denied the request, and Parker appealed to the Eighth District.

The Eighth District characterized Parker’s motion as a petition for postconviction relief. Although state law spells out specific requirements for seeking postconviction relief under R.C. 2953.21(A)(1), the appeals court ruled that Parker had been unavoidably prevented from presenting his claim that his sentence was unconstitutional, and it reversed the trial court’s denial of his challenge to his mandatory sentence. The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office appealed the decision to the Ohio Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.

Statute Provides Limited Remedy to Challenge Conviction
Justice Kennedy explained that lawmakers enacted R.C. 2953.21 in 1965 after U.S. Supreme Court decisions required states to allow prisoners to seek postconviction review of claims alleging violations of their federal constitutional rights. The new law established a procedure for obtaining postconviction relief on the grounds that the prisoner’s conviction or sentence violated the Ohio or the United States Constitutions, but it also imposed time limits for filing such a challenge.

Parker filed his postconviction petition more than four years after that deadline. The lead opinion noted that a trial court may not consider an untimely petition unless there is a discovery of new evidence, DNA testing exonerates the accused, or “the United States Supreme Court recognized a new federal or state right that applies retroactively to persons in the petitioner’s situation.” None of these exceptions applied to Parker’s petition, the lead opinion stated.

Parker had sought to have his mandatory sentence vacated on authority of the Ohio Supreme Court’s new decision in the Hand case, but according to the lead opinion, the Ohio legislature “has not provided any exception for an untimely or successive petition that seeks relief based on a new state or federal right recognized by this court. The lead opinion stated that the trial court had properly denied Parker’s petition, and the Court reversed the Eighth District’s decision.

Dissent Maintained Majority View Leads to Absurd Result
In her dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor stated that the majority shut the door on Parker before the merits of his claim could even be considered, based on a “materially flawed” view of R.C. 2953.23(A) and a mistaken view of the Ohio Supreme Court’s authority in relation to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The opinion noted that R.C. 2953.23(A)(1)(a) allows for a delayed postconviction-relief petition if the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized a new “federal or state right.” The chief justice maintained that the reference to “state right” makes no sense because the U.S. Supreme Court does not recognize new rights under state law.

“It is well established that this court has the final say on the meaning of state law, including, of course, the Ohio Constitution,” the chief justice wrote.

Therefore, applying the plain language of the statute to this case would lead to an absurd result. Based on law providing that statutes should be interpreted to avoid an absurd result, the chief justice would have held that R.C. 2953.23(A)(1)(a) permits petitions for postconviction relief based on decisions recognizing new rights under state law issued by this court. Because the U.S. Supreme Court cannot conclusively recognize a new state right, the term “state right” would have no meaning if the statute did not apply to the decisions of the Ohio Supreme Court, the opinion stated. The chief justice then considered whether the new right announced in Hand is retroactive and concluded that it is.

The chief justice wrote that “[t]he General Assembly should correct the error made by the majority’s application of the statute, and eliminate any confusion, by amending R.C. 2953.23(A)(1) to make clear that it permits an untimely or successive petition for postconviction relief based on a decision issued by this court recognizing a new state right.”

Dissent Stated Court Rules Allowed Appeal
In dissent, Justice Donnelly stated that it is not necessary to recast Parker’s motion as a petition for postconviction relief because according to State v. Schlee (2008) recasting is optional, not mandatory. He would allow Parker to file a motion for relief from judgment pursuant to Civ.R. 60(B)(5) of the Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure.

Given that Parker is being punished beyond what current constitutional standards allow, this Court should not be content with telling him there is no remedy available, Justice Donnelly stated.

“When this court recognizes a new right grounded on the Ohio Constitution, as it did in Hand, we should pave the road to assertion of that right, not fill it with obstacles,” he concluded.

Dissent Asserted Petition for Relief Not Required
Parker is serving a void sentence based on the Ohio Supreme Court’s precedent, and yet the Court majority is telling Parker he has no legal means to challenge the sentence, and the Court has no authority to enforce its own precedent, Justice Stewart wrote in her dissent.

Justice Stewart noted that when a law is ruled unconstitutional, a sentence imposed by that rule is void. When a law is void, it is as if there was no law at all, she explained. Her opinion stated that Parker was not obligated to follow the postconviction relief petition process to challenge his void sentence. Because the trial court that originally sentenced Parker maintained jurisdiction over the case, the trial court could “correct a void sentence.”

2017-1575. State v. Parker, Slip Opinion No. 2019-Ohio-3848.

Video camera icon View oral argument video of this case.

Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.

Adobe PDF PDF files may be viewed, printed, and searched using the free Acrobat® Reader
Acrobat Reader is a trademark of Adobe Systems Incorporated.