Monday, September 15, 2014

What You Should Know about Ohio’s Post-Conviction Law

Q:       What is post-conviction relief?
A:        Post-conviction relief allows a person who has been convicted of a criminal offense or who a court has determined to be a delinquent child to challenge the conviction with off-the-record evidence.  Ohio’s law (Ohio Revised Code, Section 2953.21) requires that the person filing a petition for post-conviction relief must: 1) have been either convicted of a criminal offense or must be a child who the court has determined to be delinquent; 2) claim in the petition that a denial of his/her constitutional rights under either the Ohio or United States constitutions occurred  before trial, at trial, or during the pleading process; 3)  have attached to the petition documentary, off-the-record, support to prove that his or her rights were violated; and 4) raise all claims that may apply in the petition; any claim not raised in the petition will not be considered either then or in the future, assuming it could have been raised at that time.

Q:       How do I know if my constitutional rights have been denied?
A:        If you want to petition for post-conviction relief, you must show that you were denied rights the Constitution guarantees. For instance, you have the right to be effectively represented by counsel at trial, as well as the right to a fair trial and fair process surrounding any plea, the right to an unbiased jury, and the right to defend yourself. 

Q:       Where would I get off-the-record documentary support to put in my petition?
A:        Off-the-record documentary evidence is found outside of the trial court record (what happened inside the courtroom and all trial court filings) that helps to show that your constitutional rights were violated. For instance, if you are claiming that your lawyer failed to call an important witness in your defense, then you could attach an affidavit of that witness to support your allegation. Or, if you are alleging that the prosecutor failed to turn over documents to the defense at trial that would have helped you, then you could attach the relevant documents or records that should have been turned over. To uncover this evidence, you must investigate the case, which may include looking back to the record of the case, talking to witnesses, collecting relevant records, and/or hiring relevant experts. It is wise to request “discovery” and an evidentiary hearing so the court can consider additional information you may have that would help your case.

Q:       How do I file a post-conviction relief petition?
A:        You must file the petition in the trial court that sentenced you. The petition is due no later than 180 days after your trial transcript is filed in the court of appeals in the direct appeal case. If neither you nor your attorney filed a direct appeal of your conviction, then you must file your petition no later than 180 days after a direct appeal notice would have been due. That typically means that your post-conviction relief petition would be due 210 days (180 days + 30 days) after the trial court has sentenced you. The claims may not be more than three pages long, but that page limit does not include the documentary support you will be attaching. 

Q:       How long does the prosecutor have to respond to the allegations in the petition? Can a petition be amended after it’s filed?
A:        The prosecuting attorney must respond to the petition within 10 days of its filing unless he or she can show a good reason for extending that time period. You may amend a petition at any time before the prosecutor files a response. This means you can supplement your previously-filed petition with anything new you discover. Once the prosecutor has filed a response, you can only amend if you first ask the trial court and the court gives you permission.

Q:       What will the court look at in considering the petition?
A:        The court must consider the entire record of the case in deciding whether to grant the post-conviction appeal. The law also says that, unless the contents of the petition and the files and records of the case make it obvious that the person is not entitled to relief, the court must hold a prompt hearing on the issues before granting or denying relief.  

This “Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA). It was prepared by attorney Kimberly Rigby at the Office of the Ohio Public Defender. The column offers general information about the law. Seek an attorney’s advice before applying this information to a legal problem.



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