Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Man’s Case Doesn’t Clear Two-Step Test for Ineffective Counsel

An Adams County man’s allegations that his trial lawyers were ineffective were rejected today by the Supreme Court of Ohio, which found the man already raised the issues on appeal or could not prove his attorneys were deficient.

The Supreme Court affirmed the Fourth District Court of Appeals’ decision to deny postconviction relief to Denny Blanton, who was convicted of kidnapping a 15-year-old girl when he was 18. Blanton argued his attorneys ineffectively represented him.

Writing for the Court majority, Justice R. Patrick DeWine stated that Ohio law limits when such challenges can be made to “preserve judicial resources while still protecting a petitioner’s ability to present additional evidence ” of ineffective assistance of counsel that was not fully assessed during an appeal.

The Court did not agree with how the Fourth District analyzed each of Blanton’s claims, but agreed that Blanton did not provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate that any of the alleged errors by his trial attorneys impacted the outcome of his two trials.

Justices Sharon L. Kennedy, Patrick F. Fischer, Michael P. Donnelly, and Jennifer Brunner joined Justice DeWine’s opinion. Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justice Melody Stewart concurred in judgment only.


Teen Twice Convicted for Girl’s Rape and Beating Cellmate
In 2016, Blanton was a high school senior. He encountered a 15-year-old freshman girl who ran track and cross-country for her high school. Blanton saw the girl running along the side of a road when he pulled his truck over. The two give varying accounts of what followed. The girl accused Blanton of assaulting and raping her. Blanton said they had consensual sex, and then the girl got upset when he told her he had a girlfriend.

When questioned by police, Blanton admitting giving the girl a ride, but denied having physical contact. He claimed at trial that he lied to police because he did not want his girlfriend to find out he cheated on her. An Adams County Common Pleas Court jury convicted Blanton of rape and kidnapping, and he was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison.

While awaiting trial on the rape and kidnapping charges, Blanton was incarcerated in the Adams County jail. While there, he was among a group of inmates who arranged and engaged in fights. Video surveillance showed Blanton severely beating an inmate. The inmate testified he was told by Blanton and the other ringleaders not to report the crime. Jail guards were only able to assess the inmate’s injuries when they forced him to get out of his cell bunk. Blanton was convicted of felonious assault and other crimes and sentenced to six additional years in prison.

Blanton appealed both of his convictions to the Fourth District, which affirmed them.

Inmate Alleged Constitutional Rights Violated by Attorneys
Blanton petitioned for postconviction relief, arguing his constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel was violated. In his rape case, he argued there were six ways his trial attorneys ineffectively represented him. In his jail assault case, he raised five claims against his attorneys.

The trial court determined that all the claims were raised or could have been addressed in Blanton’s direct appeal. The court dismissed Blanton’s petition without granting a hearing, applying the doctrine of res judicata, which bars a defendant from relitigating claims the could have been or were already decided in a prior proceeding.

Blanton maintained that Ohio courts should change their practices to mirror federal courts, which allow criminal defendants to raise a claim that their attorneys were ineffective at any time.

Blanton appealed to the Fourth District, which affirmed the decisions. Blanton appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.


Supreme Court Considered Postconviction Relief Rules
Justice DeWine explained that R.C. 2953.21(D) permits postconviction relief requests by those who request a trial court’s judgment to be set aside if a person’s rights were violated under the state or federal constitution. Ohio applies the doctrine of res judicata, which generally prevents a petitioner from using the postconviction relief process to relitigate claims that could have been or already were decided in the direct appeal. 300

But the Court explained that claims of ineffective assistance of counsel “pose unique challenges.” Because defendants rely on their attorneys to develop the trial record , instances of the defense lawyer’s failures are not always contained in the court record. And if the same attorney represents the defendant in a direct appeal, the attorney is not likely or able to point out any mistakes he or she made during the trial. These factors make it difficult to apply the general rule of res judicata to ineffective assistance claims, the opinion stated.

The Court addressed this concern in its 1982 State v. Cole decision, applying an exception to res judicata for ineffective assistance claims. Justice DeWine explained that under Cole, claims regarding attorney errors that appear in the trial record have to be raised on the direct appeal. Claims about attorney errors that require evidence that was not in the original record can be raised postconviction.

Justice DeWine wrote that Cole established a two-step process for considering postconviction claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. To be granted a hearing on such a claim, the defendant must present evidence that was not included in the trial record, and the newly presented evidence must, if believed, show the attorney was ineffective.

Blanton asked the Court to adopt a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision that allows defendants to claim ineffective assistance of counsel in federal court cases at any time, even if the issues could have been raised on direct appeal. The Court denied Blanton’s request to overturn Cole.

But the Court recognized that Ohio courts have “struggled with the application of res judicata to postconviction ineffective-assistance claims” under Cole. To “help guide courts in future cases,” the Court analyzed each of Blanton’s 11 claims of ineffective assistance. It found that in each case, the issue was raised and rejected by the lower courts, or that Blanton failed to prove how any of the claims changed the outcome of his trial.

2021-0172. State v. Blanton, Slip Opinion No. 2022-Ohio-3985.

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