Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Offender Can Challenge Sentence-Extension Aspect of ‘Reagan Tokes Law’

An Ohio inmate can challenge a provision in state law that allows correctional authorities to extend his prison sentence, even though it will be years before the state could do so, the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled today.

In a 4-3 opinion, the Supreme Court permitted Edward Maddox to challenge the constitutionality of the sentence-extension provision of the law, which took effect in March 2019 as part of the “Reagan Tokes Law.” Tokes was a 21-year-old student who was abducted, raped, and murdered in 2017 by a man who was on parole for a rape conviction at the time of Tokes’ murder. The sentencing laws were enacted in the wake of that case, and are not related to Maddox’s conviction.

Maddox entered a September 2019 plea agreement in Lucas County for burglary that requires him to spend at least four years in prison.

Writing for the Court majority, Justice Melody Stewart stated that even though the harm that Maddox might face in the form of an unconstitutionally increased prison sentence is possible, Maddox and similarly-situated defendants are harmed in other ways. The issue of whether the law is constitutional is presently under debate in appellate courts across the state with those courts reaching conflicting results, she explained. There is “no further factual development necessary for a court to analyze the challenge,” she wrote.

The decision overturns the judgment of the Sixth District Court of Appeals, which ruled that Maddox’s claim is not “ripe” for review because nothing indicates that the state will extend Maddox’s minimum sentence. The Court remanded the case to the Sixth District to rule on Maddox’s argument that the law is unconstitutional.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Michael P. Donnelly and Jennifer Brunner joined the opinion.

Justices Sharon L. Kennedy, Patrick F. Fischer, and R. Patrick DeWine wrote separate dissenting opinions. Each dissent maintained that the Court should not have considered Maddox’s case at this time.

Law Allows Department Officials to Extend Prison Time
State lawmakers enacted R.C. 2967.271 as part of the Reagan Tokes Law, which allows the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to extend an inmate’s prison sentence beyond the minimum prison term or an early-release date, but not beyond the maximum prison term. The law allows the department, without any court approval, to lengthen the term for several reasons, including an inmate’s violation of prison rules that leads to physical harm and acts that “demonstrate that the offender continues to pose a threat to society.”

About six months after the new law took effect, Maddox entered an Alford plea in Lucas County Common Pleas Court for three burglary charges, which included an indefinite prison term of four to six years for one of the counts.

Maddox appealed his conviction to the Sixth District, asserting a number of claims including that the sentence-extension provision violates the U.S. and Ohio constitutions. Maddox objected to the department’s authority to increase his four-year minimum sentence.

The Sixth District ruled his case was not ready for court review because Maddox has not been subject to an increase in his prison term. The appeals court held that Maddox should challenge the law if he is not released from prison after four years. At Maddox’s request, the Sixth District determined that its decision conflicted with judgments from the Second and Twelfth District appellate courts. Those courts have ruled on the constitutionality of R.C. 2967.271, even though the inmates in those cases have not had their sentences extended.

The Supreme Court agreed to review the conflict among the appellate courts.

Supreme Court Analyzes Right to Appeal
Maddox argued he had a right to challenge the law on direct appeal, which typically must be filed within 30 days of a conviction. He claimed he was sentenced to prison under a statute that violates the separation-of-powers requirement of the Ohio Constitution. He also argued the law violated his rights to a trial by jury and due process under the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and similar provisions of the state constitution.

He asserted not only that the law impacts an offender by exposing him to an unconstitutional increase of his prison sentence, but also that the law affects a defendant’s decisions in the pretrial phase, including whether to accept a plea bargain or go to trial.

Justice Stewart explained that the issue before the Supreme Court is only whether the merits of Maddox’s challenge should have been addressed by the appeals court. The Supreme Court did not consider Maddox’s claim that the law is unconstitutional. Justice Stewart noted that the U.S. Supreme Court determines whether a claim is ripe for review if it is “fit for a judicial decision” and whether withholding consideration of the case “will cause hardship to the parties.”

Noting U.S. Supreme Court and other federal court decisions, the majority opinion stated that the first thing a court should consider is whether the issue presented is purely legal and will not be clarified by any further factual development.

The opinion cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1974 Steffel v. Thompson decision, which found that a law is ripe for review if a person is “merely threatened with prosecution under a statute and the statute arguably curtails his or her constitutional rights.” In Steffel, a man passing out handbills opposing the Vietnam War was warned twice by police that he would be arrested under a Georgia criminal law if he continued. Although he wasn’t arrested, the Supreme Court ruled the man was able to challenge the constitutionality of the law.

The Court noted that Maddox was sentenced under a law he claims infringes on his constitutional rights, and Maddox alleged that he should not have to wait for years to raise the challenge. The Lucas County Prosecutor’s Office argued that Maddox has no right to challenge the law because he has not suffered any harm while serving his minimum sentence.

The majority noted that there is potential for harm. Maddox, who was indigent at the time of his appeal, had a right to a court-appointed lawyer to defend his case. If Maddox had to wait until his minimum sentence is extended, he would have to submit a habeas corpus challenge, which would not entitle him to a court-appointed lawyer and would require that he remain in prison past the time he should be released after having served his minimum sentence.

Case Fit for Review
The opinion noted that along with the Sixth District, the Fourth and Fifth districts have ruled the sentence-extension law is not ready for review by the courts when brought on direct appeal. The Second and Twelfth districts decided cases on direct appeal and ruled the law is constitutional. The Third and Eighth Districts also decided cases on direct appeal and ruled the law is constitutional, the Court noted.

Because the appellate courts have been considering the constitutionality issue, Maddox’s case is fit for review, the opinion stated. Requiring Maddox and others similarly situated to wait to address the issue would cause a hardship, the Court wrote.

Decisions Not in Conflict, Dissent Maintains
In her dissent, Justice Kennedy wrote the Sixth District did not point to any part of its decision that conflicts with the judgment of another court. The Sixth District ruled the case was not ripe, but the decisions from the Second and Twelfth districts never addressed whether the appeals were ripe for review. She noted the Court has ruled that it will dismiss a certified-conflict case if the justices discover the matter is not properly before the Court.

The Supreme Court should not “assume from an appellate court’s silence” that it actually ruled on the ripeness issue, Justice Kennedy noted. She wrote she would dismiss the case as improvidently certified.

Another Case Better Suited for Review, Dissent Asserts
Justice Fischer wrote Maddox’s case is “less than ideal” for considering the sentence-extension law. He noted the trial court did not consider the constitutionality of R.C. 2967.271 when it accepted Maddox’s plea, and Maddox did not challenge the law at the trial-court level.

Justice Fischer also questioned whether the Sixth District ruling conflicts with other districts because none of them analyzed the ripeness question. Given those procedural problems, he noted, he would dismiss the appeal and would address the issue “in a case better suited for our review.”

Court’s Ability to Review Limited, Dissent Notes
The Court can only decide cases in which someone has suffered an “injury in fact,” Justice DeWine noted in his dissent. He stated that Maddox’s case is premised on events that may never occur at all. Under settled precedent, DeWine explained, courts are not permitted to decide speculative claims like Maddox’s.

Justice DeWine wrote that an injury must be “imminent or certainly impending” before the courts can consider a case. He reasoned that for the state to extend Maddox’s sentence Maddox will have to engage in conduct that either violates the law or security-related rules, and it is up to Maddox to decide whether he will engage in that conduct.

“So, it is hard to see how Maddox has suffered an injury in fact from something that hasn’t happened yet, that may never happen, and that is largely within his control,” Justice DeWine wrote.

2020-1266. State v. Maddox, Slip Opinion No. 2022-Ohio-764.

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