On New Year’s Eve 2004, 23-year-old J.P. came from Ravenna to celebrate with friends at a club in Cleveland. She drank a lot of alcohol throughout the night, and woke up the next morning in an unfamiliar apartment wearing unfamiliar clothes, and no underwear. There she encountered two people she did not know–Iran Doss and his then girlfriend Eileen Wiles. The two had driven her to their place. She knew neither of them. They claimed to have found her disoriented at the club where she had been drinking, and that they took her home as good Samaritans. The two drove her back to Ravenna the next day.
J.P. later became concerned that she had been sexually assaulted, and sought medical treatment. She reported the incident, and the resulting police investigation led to Doss. Doss admitted to having sex with J.P., but maintained that it 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. Doss did not testify at his criminal trial, nor did Wiles. The jury convicted Doss of rape and kidnapping. He was sentenced to four years in prison.
Doss appealed his conviction. The Eighth District Court of Appeals 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 I”). 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 vacated the convictions, and ordered Doss released from prison (“Doss II”). The Supreme Court of Ohio denied the State’s request for review.
Civil Action Against the State for Wrongful Imprisonment
The Key Statute
A wrongfully imprisoned person means an individual who satisfies all of the following: (only the second part of section 5 is pertinent to this appeal; proof of the factors in sections 1-4 was undisputed, and the first part of section (5) is not applicable.)
(5) …[I]t was determined by the court of common pleas in the county where the underlying criminal action was initiated that the charged offense, including all lesser-included offenses, either was not committed by the individual or was not committed by any person.
Doss’ Lawsuit For Wrongful Imprisonment
Upon his release from prison, 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. The trial court granted Doss’ motion, finding that the Eighth District’s decision to vacate Doss’ conviction in Doss II could only be interpreted to mean that Doss was innocent of the charges or that no crime was committed.
The state appealed and on December 15, 2011, the Eighth District affirmed the trial court, in a split decision (“Doss III”). 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 (“Doss IV”). In a unanimous opinion 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. The second paragraph of the case syllabus in Doss IV reads, “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.” 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 a wrongfully imprisoned person.
What Happened on Remand
The only section of the wrongful imprisonment statute at issue in this case is the second part of R.C. 2743.48(A)(5), quoted above. Thus, to prevail, Doss would have to show by a preponderance of the evidence either that he did not commit the charged offense or any lesser included offense, or that no crime was committed at all (actual innocence).
On remand from the Supreme Court of Ohio, a day and a half bench trial was held beginning August 26, 2013. Three witnesses testified in the civil trial. Doss testified in his case in chief. J.P. and Eileen Wiles testified for the state (Wiles did so reluctantly. As a result of the incident, she was also criminally charged, pled to one count of abduction, and was placed on five years of community control).
The case was pending in the trial court for nearly two and a half years without a decision.
Trial Court’s Finding: No Wrongful Imprisonment
On July 26, 2016, the trial court, in an extensive opinion, found that Doss had failed to prove that he was a wrongfully imprisoned person. The judge found that any reasonable trier of fact would find that any sexual activity that took place with J.P. was not consensual, that Doss was aware of J.P.’s intoxicated condition, and that a reasonable jury could have returned verdicts against him for both rape and kidnapping. As a result, the judge found that Doss failed to establish that he was innocent of criminal behavior or that no crime was committed. Accordingly, the judge entered judgment in favor of the state on Doss’s claim for wrongful imprisonment. Read the complete decision here.
Doss Appeals Again, But Loses.
On August 24, 2016, Doss filed a notice of appeal, claiming that the decision was (1) contrary to law and the court’s previous rulings in the case and (2) against the manifest weight of the evidence. On April 6, 2017, 8th District unanimously affirmed the decision of the trial court.
In an opinion decision authored by Judge Eileen T. Gallagher and joined by Judges Tim McCormack and Sean Gallagher, the court provided a careful review of the record and rejected both of Doss’ assignments of error. Under the first assignment of error, Doss had claimed that previous findings by the trial and appeals court that no crime was committed should be considered res judicata. The 8th District, however, found res judicata to be inapplicable, because of the Ohio Supreme Court reversal on this point.
The 8th District also overruled Doss’ weight of the evidence assignment of error. The appeals court noted that in the Supreme Court’s decision in Doss IV, the Court found that in Doss III, the appeals court “improperly relied on the ‘dearth of evidence of guilt’ in Doss’s criminal case and not on “an affirmative showing of actual innocence.’ ” Therefore, Doss’ reliance on statements from Doss III in this present appeal were unpersuasive.
The appeals court also noted that there was significant testimony in the civil case that was not adduced in the criminal trial, and therefore not available to the appeals court in earlier appeals of this case. Particularly significant was the testimony, for the state, by Ms. Wiles, about the extent of J.P.’s intoxication. Despite Doss’ arguments that Wiles’ testimony was inconsistent with her statements in the original police report, the appeals court deferred to the trial court’s resolution of those inconsistences, finding Wiles’ testimony at trial the more credible. As such, the appeals court held that the trial court’s factual determination that the testimony presented showed that Doss knew or had reason to know that the victim was substantially impaired so as to prevent her from being able to resist or consent to sexual activity, was supported by competent, credible evidence warranting affirmance of the decision.