What Happened on Remand: Doss v. State. Compensation for Actual Innocence Hangs in the Balance.

Update: On July 26, 2016, Doss was found not to be a wrongfully-imprisoned person. Read more about that here.

Case Background.

In 2006, Iran Doss was convicted of kidnapping and rape, and sentenced to four years in prison.  The charges arose from a night of drinking on New Year’s eve, 2004. The victim, J.P., ended up at Doss’ apartment, where sex took place. J.P. did not know Doss before or remember how she got there. Doss claims the sex was consensual.   J.P. testified that, although she could not remember what happened that night, given her condition she would not have been able to consent. A substantially impaired individual cannot legally give consent.

Doss’ Appeal

Doss appealed the conviction.  The Eighth District vacated the kidnapping charge and initially upheld the rape conviction, concluding that there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding that J.P.’s capacity to consent was substantially impaired and that Doss knew it, or should have.  Doss moved for reconsideration, which was granted. The new majority held that there was insufficient evidence to support the finding that Doss knew or had reason to know of J.P.’s condition. The appeals court ordered Doss released from prison. The Supreme Court of Ohio denied the State’s request for review.

Doss’ First Wrongful Imprisonment Claim

Upon his release, Doss filed a civil action in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, seeking a declaration that he was a wrongfully-imprisoned person, and moved for summary judgment, relying on the court of appeals finding.  The trial court granted Doss’ motion, finding that the Eighth District’s decision to vacate Doss’ conviction could only be interpreted to mean that Doss was innocent of the charges or that no crime was committed by Doss.

State’s Appeal

The State appealed and the Eighth District affirmed the trial court, in a split decision. Relying on its prior opinion, the majority found that the State’s failure to produce evidence that Doss knew of J.P.’s condition supported a finding of actual innocence.  The State appealed this decision to the Supreme Court of Ohio, which accepted jurisdiction.

Ohio’s Wrongful Imprisonment Statute

R.C. 2743.48(A)

In order to receive compensation from the state, the person seeking compensation as a wrongfully imprisoned person must satisfy all five criteria under the statute.  The first four criteria in this case are undisputed.  Doss was convicted of a felony to which he did not plead guilty, he was sentenced to a prison term, his conviction was vacated upon appeal, and he is not subject to further charges. The sole criterion at issue in this case is 2743.48(A)(5), which requires proof of actual innocence.

Merit Decision

On December 6, 2012, the Supreme Court handed down a merit decision in Doss v. State, 2012-Ohio-5678.  In a unanimous decision written by Justice Lanzinger, the Court held that a wrongfully imprisoned person must prove actual innocence in order to receive compensation from the state, and Doss did not.  In finding that he did, the trial court improperly relied solely on the appellate court judgment vacating his conviction for insufficient evidence. “When a court vacates or reverses a criminal conviction based on insufficiency of the evidence, the court is saying that the state has not proven the elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt; it is not saying that innocence has been proven. Thus, reversal on insufficiency of the evidence does not automatically mean that the defendant was wrongfully imprisoned,” Lanzinger wrote. The case was reversed and remanded for another hearing. Read a complete analysis of the merit decision here.

Case Syllabus

1. One who claims to be a “wrongfully imprisoned individual” under R.C. 2743.48 must prove all of the factors in R.C. 2743.48(A) by a preponderance of the evidence before seeking compensation from the state for wrongful imprisonment.

2. A trial court adjudicating proof of innocence pursuant to R.C. 2743.48(A)(5) may not find that the claimant was wrongfully imprisoned based solely on an appellate court judgment vacating a felony conviction due to insufficient evidence and discharging the prisoner without a remand for a new trial.

What Happened on Remand

On remand, a day and a half bench trial was held beginning August 26, 2013. On the first day of trial, the parties argued about the admissibility of the transcripts and exhibits from the criminal case. Then each side presented its case.  Doss was the only witness in his. The parties delivered their closing arguments and the court took the matter under advisement pending the filing of post-trial briefs.

On September 4, 2013, the parties submitted their post-trial briefs. In its brief, the State argued that in order to succeed under the wrongful imprisonment statute, Doss must prove that he was not engaging in any criminal conduct arising out of the incident with which he was charged (rape in this case). When Doss was arrested, the police found a viagra tablet in his home. Although Doss claimed the pill belonged to his uncle, the State argued that possession of a prescription medication without a prescription is a crime, making Doss ineligible for wrongful conviction compensation.

In addition, the State argues that Doss cannot prevail with the burden of proof required in this action.  Because he is now in civil court, Doss has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that he was actually innocent —that it was more likely than not he did not commit the crime. The State argues that although Doss was able to establish that  reasonable doubt existed in the criminal case, he did not prove that it was more likely than not that he did not commit the rape. The state argues there was overwhelming evidence in this case of the victim’s inability to consent to sexual activity.

In contrast, Doss argues that he must be compensated for the two years he was imprisoned because the elements of rape were clearly not met. Specifically, it is undisputed that the sexual activities that occurred were consensual and did not involve force or the threat of force. Further, there is no evidence that Doss knew of the alleged victim’s impairment and any impairment was due to the alleged victim’s own voluntary intoxication.

Although both parties submitted their briefs in September of 2013, the trial court has yet to hand down a decision. If the trial judge rules in his favor, Doss must go to the Court of Claims for a determination of monetary damages.

Student Contributor: Cameron Downer


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