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 from an incident that occurred on New Year’s Eve of 2004. He was sentenced to four years in prison. Subsequently, 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 then appealed the case 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.
In a unanimous decision written by Justice Lanzinger, the court of appeals was reversed. The Supreme Court of Ohio 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,” Lanzinger wrote. 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 offenses.
What Happened on Remand
On remand from the Supreme Court of Ohio, 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, Judge Villaneuva ordered a copy of the transcript for his own use. Nothing at all has happened since. And Judge Villaneuva only has to decide whether or not Doss is a wrongfully imprisoned person entitled to compensation. If he decides that Doss is, the amount of compensation will be set by the Court of Claims.
This case has now been pending for nearly two and a half years. That is shameful, and the state (curiously, not Doss’ lawyer) has finally threatened to take some action.
On April 19, 2016, the state filed a motion requesting Judge Villaneuva to make a decision within 45 days, or the state will file a writ of procedendo with the Eighth District Court of Appeals. Procedendo is an extraordinary writ from a court of superior jurisdiction ordering a lower court to proceed to judgment in a case. The state argues that the unnecessary delay is unwarranted and unfair to all parties involved. Moreover, if Judge Villaneuva does not render a decision before leaving office at the end of his term on December 31, 2016, (Judge Villaneuva is not running for re-election) it may be necessary to re-try the case since a successor judge cannot make credibility determinations from the trial transcripts. The state argues that to make the alleged victim return for a third trial to recapitulate events dating back to 2004 would be both outrageous and unnecessary.
The blog has written this case up several times, most recently as part of this post, on August 27, 2015. Isn’t someone in Cuyahoga County other than the prosecutor’s office supposed to be keeping track of this kind of thing? “Justice delayed is justice denied,” as the state quotes from Gladstone in its current motion.