Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Parole Hearing Denied For Incomplete Paperwork

A state prison inmate who has been eligible for a parole hearing since 2016 is not entitled to a court-ordered hearing because he submitted incomplete paperwork, the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled today.

The Supreme Court denied a writ of habeas corpus to DeWitt McDonald Jr., an inmate at the Richland Correctional Institution. McDonald asked the Supreme Court for an order to release him after an Erie County judge first ordered his release but then vacated that order after the Ohio attorney general contested the judge’s decision.

In a per curiam opinion, the Court rejected McDonald’s request based on Richland Correctional Institution Warden Kenneth Black’s contention that McDonald failed to attach his commitment papers, as required by R.C. 2725.04(D).

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Sharon L. Kennedy, Patrick F. Fischer, R. Patrick DeWine, Melody Stewart, and Jennifer Brunner joined the opinion.

Justice Michael P. Donnelly concurred and noted that the Court’s decision does not prevent McDonald from refiling his habeas corpus petition.

Sentence Miscalculated, Inmate Maintained
McDonald was convicted of aggravated murder and other felonies in 1994 in Erie County. He appealed to the Sixth District Court of Appeals, which affirmed his conviction in 1997 and determined from the trial court entry that he received a life sentence. McDonald continued to appeal his conviction and, in later decisions, the Sixth District indicated his actual sentence was a “life term of imprisonment without parole possibility for 20 years.”

In November 2020, the Erie County Common Pleas Court granted a request to clarify McDonald’s sentence and determined that McDonald was eligible for parole after 20 years. McDonald has maintained he has been eligible for parole since at least 2016, if not earlier, and filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in Erie County in December 2021.

In March 2022, the trial court granted the request and ordered McDonald’s immediate release from prison. After the attorney general’s office contested the release, the trial judge vacated the order. McDonald petitioned the Supreme Court for his release.

McDonald argued the parole authority violated his due process rights by failing to provide him a parole hearing when he was eligible. That violation entitles him to be released from prison, or for the Court to direct the parole board to conduct a hearing to consider paroling him, McDonald maintained.

Paperwork Incomplete, Warden Asserted
Black argued that R.C. 2725.04(D) requires McDonald to include his “commitment papers” with his habeas corpus petition. McDonald only attached the first page of his 1995 sentencing entry from the Erie County Common Pleas Court.

He also included an affidavit from his attorney’s staff member, who wrote that numerous attempts to obtain the document were unsuccessful because of its age.

The warden responded that the law office did not indicate if it attempted to obtain a copy of the sentencing entry from the Erie County clerk of courts. The state also noted that the entry was filed electronically in two federal cases initiated by McDonald.

McDonald argued he is not required to attach his sentencing entry. He asserted that the law says “commitment papers,” and does not specify that a “judgment entry” is required. He maintained he supplied enough paperwork to meet the law’s requirement.

Supreme Court Examined Paperwork Requirement
The Court’s opinion stated the term “commitment papers” does not actually appear in the law, but instead requires a copy of “the commitment or cause of detention” of the inmate. The Court has held that “the commitment or cause of detention” includes all pertinent papers that caused the inmate’s commitment, “including sentencing entries and parole-revocation decisions.”

Because McDonald admits he did not attempt to locate his sentencing entry, his petition does not offer a legitimate justification for not complying with the law, the Court concluded. The Court denied his petition because he did not include the required documents.

2022-0646. McDonald v. Black, Slip Opinion No. 2022-Ohio-3938.

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