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Court News Ohio

Unconstitutional Address-Notification Law Does Not Establish Actual Innocence for Wrongful Imprisonment Claim

A person has not met the actual-innocence standard to claim wrongful imprisonment when his conviction is reversed because the statute that described the crime was found to be constitutionally unenforceable, the Ohio Supreme Court held today.

David M. Bundy therefore cannot ask the state for compensation based on his conviction for failing to verify his address with officials under sex-offender laws, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor concluded in the court’s majority opinion. The decision reverses the Second District Court of Appeals’ judgment in the case.

Sex Offender Misses Address-Verification Deadlines
Following a conviction for gross sexual imposition, Bundy was classified as a sex offender under Megan’s Law. When he was released from prison, he had to register with the county sheriff wherever he lived and had to verify his address each year.

Bundy failed to register with the sheriff and pled guilty to a felony in November 2003. The court sentenced him to five years of community control.

Based on the passage of the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, the state legislature then repealed Megan’s Law and provided new standards for the classification and registration of sex offenders. The law took effect January 1, 2008, and the changes applied retroactively.

Bundy was notified at the end of 2007 that he had been reclassified as a Tier II sex offender and was now required to verify his address every 180 days. He missed his March 2008 verification deadline. In October 2008, a judge convicted Bundy and sentenced him to a three-year prison term, to be served concurrently with his one-year prison sentence in an unrelated case.

Bodyke Alters Requirements
After the Second District affirmed Bundy’s conviction, the Ohio Supreme Court decided State v. Bodyke (2010), which determined that the new sex-offender classification process, in R.C. 2950.031 and 2950.032, violated separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches. The court then overturned Bundy’s conviction for failing to follow the updated verification procedure. On remand, the state dismissed the charge against Bundy, and he was released from prison in September 2010.

Claim of Wrongful Imprisonment
Bundy filed a complaint the next year asking the trial court to declare that he had been wrongfully imprisoned so he could seek compensation from the state. The court decided he met the requirements for a wrongful imprisonment claim, and the state appealed. The Second District agreed with the trial court, and the state asked the Supreme Court to review the issue.

The wrongful imprisonment statute, R.C. 2743.48, requires an individual to meet five criteria. The fifth one, reviewed in this case and known as the “actual-innocence” standard, mandates that “the charged offense, including all lesser-included offenses, either was not committed by the individual or was not committed by any person.”

Court’s Analysis
Chief Justice O’Connor noted that a sex offender’s failure to verify an address is still a legitimate offense, even though it temporarily could not be prosecuted because the statutes underlying the charge were found in Bodyke to unconstitutionally violate separation of powers in the government. As a result, the court reinstituted the sex-offender classifications that had existed under the earlier Megan’s Law, and Bundy was set free from prison.

Chief Justice O’Connor explained that Bundy is looking for an additional remedy through the wrongful imprisonment law, which is governed and limited by the statute’s language. She pointed out that the wrongful imprisonment statute’s actual-innocence standard does not include as one of the criteria a law that is declared unenforceable for constitutional reasons.

“[T]he subsequent invalidation of a statute does not mean that ‘the charged offense … was not committed’ by Bundy,” she wrote. “There is no dispute that despite being put on notice of his new registration obligations as a Tier II sex offender, Bundy failed to verify his current residence address with the sheriff on March 14, 2008, thereby violating R.C. 2950.06. Bodyke’s later invalidation of the statutes for reclassifying sex offenders meant that the increased requirements of R.C. 2950.06 could not be constitutionally enforced against Bundy, and his conviction for failing to comply with those requirements was thus reversed. However, the reversal of his conviction on constitutional grounds does not establish that on March 14, 2008, the violation of R.C. 2950.06 ‘was not committed’ by Bundy. He therefore fails to satisfy the innocence standard of the wrongful-imprisonment statute.”

She added that the cases cited by the dissent would not alter today’s decision. The Bodyke court made the unconstitutional address-verification laws inoperative, declared what the law was, and let Bundy go free from prison. The cases mentioned in the dissenting opinion do not give Bundy the right to a finding of actual innocence under the wrongful imprisonment law, she reasoned.

The majority concluded that Bundy is not entitled to seek compensation from the state for wrongful imprisonment.

Joining Chief Justice O’Connor’s opinion were Justices Terrence O’Donnell, Judith Ann Lanzinger, Sharon L. Kennedy, and Judith L. French. Justice Paul E. Pfeifer concurred only in the court’s judgment. Justice William M. O’Neill dissented.

Dissenting Opinion
Justice O’Neill explained that U.S. Chief Justice John Marshall presented a core legal principle in an 1803 ruling: “Judges may invalidate unconstitutional laws and must resolve cases as if the unconstitutional law were never put into place.” Justice O’Neill noted that the address-verification law was determined in Bodyke to be a “legislative overreach” so the law was a nullity.

“It logically follows that one who is convicted of violating a law that has no legal force has been wrongfully convicted,” he reasoned. “Consequently, if the state imprisons a person based on a wrongful conviction, that person is and always was legally and factually innocent.”

“One who has been convicted of a crime that is found by a court not to be a crime has been wrongfully convicted,” he wrote. “It is that simple, and justice demands no less.”

2014-0189. Bundy v. State, Slip Opinion No. 2015-Ohio-2138.

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