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Court News Ohio

Court Confirms Postrelease Control Sanction Can Be Challenged Only on Direct Appeal

The Ohio Supreme Court today ruled for a second time this year that challenges to errors by trial courts imposing postrelease control  may be raised by an offender only on direct appeal.

A Supreme Court majority rejected Michael D. Hudson’s argument that he was entitled to have his  postrelease-control sanction vacated because the trial court had failed to properly impose it in its written entry in 2006.

Writing for the Court majority, Justice Sharon L. Kennedy explained that the Court’s May 2020 State v. Harper decision overruled prior case law holding that a trial court’s failure to properly impose postrelease control renders that part of the sentence void, allowing it to be vacated. (See Failure to Properly Impose Postrelease Control Renders Sentence Voidable but Not Void.)

Today’s decision reaffirms the Court’s holding that errors in imposing postrelease control are voidable, not void. Further, challenges to sentencing errors raised outside of a direct appeal are subject to the doctrine of res judicata,  the Court ruled.

Justices Judith L. French, R. Patrick DeWine, Michael P. Donnelly, and Melody J. Stewart joined the opinion. Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor concurred in judgment only.

Justice Patrick F. Fischer stated he would have dismissed the appeal as having been improvidently accepted.

Challenge to Sanction Raised after Prison Sentence Served
In May 2004, Hudson was indicted by a Franklin County grand jury on multiple counts relating to the killing Garfield Commissiong. In March 2006, a jury found Hudson guilty of kidnapping and an amended count of burglary, which carried a firearm specification. The jury acquitted him of aggravated murder, aggravated robbery, and other charges, and several charges were dismissed.

The trial court sentenced Hudson to 10 years in prison for kidnapping, eight years for burglary, and one year for the firearm specification, along with a mandatory five-year term of postrelease control, all to be served consecutively.

Although the trial court notified Hudson of the potential consequences of violating postrelease control – both at his sentencing hearing and in a separate document -- the trial court did not include that notice in the sentencing entry.

Hudson filed a direct appeal in the Tenth District Court of Appeals, but he did not challenge the imposition of postrelease control. The Tenth District affirmed Hudson’s convictions and sentence in 2007.

In June 2018, more than a decade after his direct appeal, Hudson sought to vacate his postrelease control, asserting that the trial court had failed to properly impose it and that that part of his sentence was void. The trial court denied the motion, and Hudson appealed.

The Tenth District concluded that Hudson’s sentencing entry had not properly imposed postrelease control because the trial court had not incorporated notice of the consequences of a violation into the sentencing entry. But because the trial court provided Hudson enough information about postrelease control for it to be enforceable, the Tenth District remanded the case to the trial court to issue a nunc pro tunc entry correcting the deficiency in the judgment entry while allowing the postrelease control sanction to be enforced.

Hudson appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the postrelease control sanction was attached to his kidnapping sentence. Since his 10-year sentence for kidnapping had been served, he maintained that the trial court could not correct the error in imposing postrelease control and that the sanction must be vacated. The Court agreed to hear the case.

Sentence Correction Proper for PRC Errors
Justice Kennedy explained that Hudson’s appeal to the Supreme Court was pending when the Court ruled in Harper and it did not need to consider his argument that he fully served the sentence that included postrelease control because his appeal was barred by res judicata.

Justice Kennedy provided an overview of the sea change in the Court’s void-sentence jurisprudence.

The Court explained that under traditional rules, a judgment is void only if a trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the case or personal jurisdiction over the parties. When a court has the constitutional and statutory power to decide a case, any error in the exercise of that power renders the judgment voidable, not void. A void judgment may be challenged at any time. By contrast, generally, a voidable judgment may only be set aside if successfully challenged on direct appeal, the opinion noted.

In 2004, in a line of cases beginning with State v. Jordan, the Ohio Supreme Court recognized an exception to the traditional rule, holding that a trial court’s failure to properly impose postrelease control renders the sentence — or part of the sentence — void and permits it to be corrected at any time before the prison term expires.

The Court in Harper overruled Jordan and subsequent cases that followed it. Had Hudson objected to the trial court’s decision when it was made, it may have been a reversible error on direct appeal, the Court stated. That could have led to a resentencing, but it did not render any part of Hudson’s sentence void, the opinion concluded.

The Court warned “prosecuting attorneys , defense counsel, and pro se defendants throughout this state: they are on notice that any claim that the trial court has failed to properly impose postrelease control in the sentence must be brought on appeal from the judgment of conviction or it will be subject to principles of res judicata.”

2019-0646. State v. Hudson, Slip Opinion No. 2020-Ohio-3849.

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