Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Kidnapping and Sexual Assault by Cab Driver Intersect on Issue of Harm

Image of the roof of a taxi cab in service

The Cuyahoga County prosecutor says taxi driver inflicted harm during sexual assault, therefore not entitled to lesser kidnapping sentence.

Image of the roof of a taxi cab in service

The Cuyahoga County prosecutor says taxi driver inflicted harm during sexual assault, therefore not entitled to lesser kidnapping sentence.

The Ohio Supreme Court will consider whether a Cleveland woman who was sexually assaulted by a taxi driver could be released “unharmed,” which would warrant a lesser kidnapping offense for the driver.

At issue is a provision in the state’s kidnapping law that reduces the sentence for a kidnapping conviction when the kidnapper “releases the victim in a safe place unharmed.” The Supreme Court will review contrasting interpretations of the law during next week’s oral arguments.

Taxi Driver Accosts Passenger
In May 2014, taxi driver Shuaib A. Haji Mohamed picked up two women in downtown Cleveland during early morning hours. At their stop, one of the women, identified as J.K., paid by credit card, but Haji Mohamed approached her outside the cab to tell her the card had been declined.

Haji Mohamed drove J.K. home to retrieve a debit card and took her to an ATM to withdraw money for the fare. J.K. discovered she had left her keys in her apartment and asked Haji Mohamed to transport her to her ex-boyfriend’s house. During the drive, Haji Mohamed touched and grabbed J.K. sexually, then stopped the cab alongside a highway and tried to force her to engage in sexual activity. She repeatedly refused, and Haji Mohamed took her to the ex-boyfriend’s house. She got out of the cab and yelled that she had been raped. Haji Mohamed left, and the police were called. J.K. later discovered that her credit card had not been declined.

Jury Convicts, But Appeals Court Orders New Trial
A jury convicted Haji Mohamed of gross sexual imposition, attempted gross sexual imposition, attempted rape, and kidnapping. Ten years of his 15-year prison sentence was imposed for first-degree kidnapping, a felony. On appeal, the court ordered a new trial on the kidnapping offense, ruling that Haji Mohamed’s lawyer should have asked the court to instruct the jury about R.C. 2905.01(C)(1), which mandates a lesser felony conviction if the victim is released unharmed and in a safe place.

Prosecutor, Taxi Driver View Kidnapping Law Differently
The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office notes that the kidnapping statute uses the word “unharmed” without limiting it explicitly in any way to physical harm. Because the ordinary meaning of “harm” includes physical, psychological, and other types of harm, the prosecutor contends that the lesser kidnapping offense can’t be restricted to apply only when physical injury occurs. Sexual crimes cause psychological harm, and such harm should be considered in any kidnapping case involving a sex crime, the prosecutor argues. The office concludes that Haji Mohamed didn’t release J.K. “unharmed” and shouldn’t get the benefit of a second-degree felony kidnapping conviction, which requires two to eight years in prison.

Haji Mohamed counters that the appeals court simply ordered the trial court to give the jury an instruction to determine whether his kidnapping conviction could be lowered to a second-degree felony. He maintains that no evidence of J.K.’s physical or psychological harm was presented at the trial and argues the prosecutor “casually blurs the distinction” between rape and other sexual assaults. The prosecutor wants the Court to rule that no victim of a sex crime can ever be set free unharmed, but that is a question for the jury, Haji Mohamed argues.

Seven Cases Set for Oral Argument
On Tuesday, May 2, the Court will consider three cases, including a death-penalty appeal. The Court will hear State v. Haji Mohamed and three other matters on Wednesday, May 3. The Court’s session begins at 9 a.m. each day at the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center in Columbus. All arguments are streamed live online at and broadcast live on The Ohio Channel.

Case Previews Available
Along with the brief descriptions below, the Office of Public Information today released previews of the central arguments in the cases.

Cases for Tuesday, May 2
A mother and her two young children were found strangled to death in September 2012 in their Sandusky home. A male friend of the mother’s, who on the morning of the murders called her and visited her house for more than an hour, was convicted and sentenced to death for the crimes. In State v. Clinton, the man asserts that he must waive his right to present mitigating factors in person and on the record at his trial, but he didn’t appear in court that day. Among numerous other arguments, the man also maintains that his trial for the triple homicide should’ve been separated from his trial for a rape that happened a week before the murders.

A Washington County landowner sought to terminate an oil and gas lease with a company that acquired the rights to drill underneath her property and the surrounding area. The original lease was signed in 1950, and the prior landowner agreed to exchange the rights to royalties for free natural gas to one home. In Schultheiss v. Heinrich Enterprises, the company argues that while little activity has happened with the well, the lease is still good and the owner can’t terminate the contract because she accepted the free gas.

A one-year suspension with six months stayed is sought in Disciplinary Counsel v. Maney for a Franklin County attorney who neglected a client’s legal matters then lied to investigators about his misconduct. The attorney forgot about a client’s case, and when contacted by disciplinary investigators, he denied making mistakes and fabricated information. The attorney objects to the proposed sanction, arguing the Board of Professional Conduct didn’t allow him to present a key piece of evidence that could justify a lower penalty.

Cases for Wednesday, May 3
A large insurance company is contesting a 95-percent tax-value increase for its regional headquarters that was triggered by a sale-leaseback arrangement. In Columbus City Schools Board of Education v. Franklin County Board of Revision, the company and investor maintain that the New Albany headquarters’ $14 million tax value for 2011 should have been only slightly higher for 2012. Instead, the Ohio Board of Tax Appeals adopted a $25 million value based on the sale and lease of the property, finding the law required the sale price be used. The company asserts the law was changed to reflect sale-leaseback arrangements because they aren’t traditional property sales, and that the nearly $14 million value its appraiser submitted reflects the property’s true value.

The Bowling Green attorney in Disciplinary Counsel v. Schuman faces a six-month actual suspension for trying to collect $6,405 from two parents – nearly double the amount he billed for serving as a guardian ad litem for their child. The Board of Professional Conduct also found that the attorney altered documents and lied to a court about what the parents owed him because they hadn’t paid him. The attorney argues that an actual suspension would prevent him from providing much-needed criminal defense representation in the region, and he asks the Supreme Court for a stayed suspension.

A Hamilton County man fell off a 30-foot ladder and was given a spinal epidural at the hospital to relieve his pain. All of the hospital’s anesthesia care was provided by anesthesiologists working for a single employer. The man lost use of his legs and sued the employer, citing the failure of an anesthesiologist to relay important information to the treatment team. The doctor claimed the nurse wrongly identified him as the doctor on call, and the trial court ruled that without knowing the specific anesthesiologist who made the mistake, the employer group can’t be sued for negligence. In Rush v. University of Cincinnati Physicians, the man argues long-standing Ohio legal principles allow the employer to be sued.