Update: On July 26, 2016, Doss was found not to be a wrongfully-imprisoned person. Read more about that here.
In 2006, Iran Doss was convicted of kidnapping and rape, and sentenced to four years in prison. Ultimately, the Eighth District Court of Appeals reversed the convictions, and ordered Doss released from prison.
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. The State appealed and the Eighth District affirmed the trial court, in a split decision. The state appealed that decision to the Supreme Court of Ohio, which accepted jurisdiction.
On December 6, 2012, the Supreme Court handed down a merit decision in Doss v. State, 2012-Ohio-5678. The court of appeals was reversed.
In order to establish the right to compensation as a wrongfully imprisoned person, all the factors set forth in R.C. 2743.48(A) must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence. In this case, proof of the factors in (A)(1) through (A)(4) was undisputed. Only (A)(5) is at issue, which requires proof that the charged offense, including any lesser included offense, was not committed by the individual, or no crime was committed at all (actual innocence.)
In a unanimous decision written by Justice Lanzinger, the court held that Doss was not entitled to summary judgment on his claim for the right to seek compensation as a wrongfully imprisoned person just because the court of appeals reversed and vacated his conviction and ordered his immediate release. “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.” Read a complete analysis of the merit decision here.
The case was remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings, in which Doss would be required to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he was innocent of the charged offense.
What Happened on Remand
On remand, a day and a half bench trial was held beginning August 26, 2013, by Cuyahoga Court of Common Pleas Judge Jose Villaneuva, who then requested post trial briefs, which were submitted on September 4, 2013. Read about this more fully here. On November 26, 2013 (that is not a typo), Judge Villaneuva ordered a copy of the transcript for his own use. Since then, according to the docket statement, absolutely nothing has happened. The only thing the judge has to decide is if Doss has proven that he is entitled to compensation as a wrongfully imprisoned person or not. If the answer is yes, the court of claims sets the amount. Whatever one thinks of this case, Doss is entitled to a timely decision. As the old aphorism goes, justice delayed is justice denied.