Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Postconviction Integrity Report Released

The Task Force on Conviction Integrity and Postconviction Review has completed its work and delivered recommendations to the Supreme Court of Ohio, which released the report today.

The report’s recommendations are in three general categories: changes in laws and criminal rules, training and education for attorneys who do felony criminal appeals and postconviction review cases, and creation of an Ohio Innocence Commission. 

Judge Gene Zmuda sits on the Sixth District Court of Appeals and is an adjunct professor at the University of Toledo. He chaired the task force.

“Innocent until proven guilty is a foundational cornerstone of our American justice system,” said Judge Zmuda. “The recommended improvements reduce the possibility of wrongful convictions and ensure convictions are reliable.”

Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor formed the task force of judges, attorneys, legislators, and other stakeholders to look at policies and practices on conviction integrity and fairness. The group analyzed data on convictions as well as current laws and criminal rules. They heard from national experts and looked at models from other states for best practices. The recommendations are designed to advise the judiciary and the legislature.

Proposed changes would allow a new trial based on certain types of new evidence not offered in pretrial or trial. There would be no time limits on certain new evidence, and prosecutors would be required to take action if they become aware of new evidence that could lead to a finding of innocence. The report also recommends specific training in felony criminal appeals or postconviction relief for lawyers who are appointed or hired to take these cases.

Supreme Court Justice Michael Donnelly served on the task force and underscores the importance of ensuring Ohio has mechanisms in place to uncover and correct when people are wrongfully convicted.

“I consider wrongful conviction to be the worst kind of injustice to occur in our system,” said Justice Michael Donnelly. “When it goes wrong, not only is an innocent person in prison, but the true criminal is free with the potential to do more harm.”

Best practices from around the country formed the basis for some of the recommendations. The formation of an Ohio Innocence Commission could be modeled after the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, the report concludes. This would be an independent group of justice professionals who would review claims and evidence to determine if further judicial review is warranted. 

The report advocates collecting additional data on felony conviction appeals and postconviction relief going forward to identify additional areas for improving conviction integrity in the Ohio justice system.