Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

More Than 150 Cases Resolved by Prior Ruling on ‘Reagan Tokes Law’

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Court releases decisions based on earlier opinion.

Image showing pages on a calendar.

Court releases decisions based on earlier opinion.

The Supreme Court of Ohio today decided 155 cases based on an earlier opinion that found the “Reagan Tokes Law” to be constitutional.

The Reagan Tokes Law, which took effect in 2019, imposes an indefinite prison term on those who commit serious felonies. Under the law, the offender is expected to be released once the minimum sentence is served, but the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) can keep an inmate incarcerated up to the maximum sentence imposed by the court for committing crimes or breaking rules in prison.

The Reagan Tokes Law is named for a 21-year-old student who was abducted, raped, and murdered in 2017 by a man on parole.

Sentencing Law Revised
The Reagan Tokes Law imposes an indefinite sentence for offenders convicted of first- or second-degree felonies when a life sentence is not an option. Under a portion of the Reagan Tokes Law, R.C. 2929.14, a trial court must choose a minimum sentence from a possible range. The minimum prison term dictates the maximum term an offender can receive, which is one-and-a-half times the minimum term. For example, if the trial court imposes a four-year minimum sentence, the maximum sentence will be six years.

Another provision, R.C. 2967.271, states that “there shall be a presumption that the person shall be released” once the minimum term is served. However, the DRC can “rebut,” or contest, the presumption that the inmate be released once serving the minimum term. The department must conduct a hearing to determine if certain misconduct should lead to a prison stay beyond the minimum term. The DRC can seek to maintain an inmate’s incarceration only up to the maximum term imposed by the trial court.

The law specifies the reasons that the DRC could seek to maintain the inmate’s incarceration beyond the minimum term, including for violations of law or rule infractions that compromise the security of a correctional institution, a staff member, or an inmate and that “demonstrate the offender has not been rehabilitated.” To continue incarceration for any of these reasons, the department must also show the offender continues to pose a threat to society.

In July, the Supreme Court rejected the claim that the law violates the constitutional rights of offenders subjected to the indefinite sentencing provisions. The Court made the ruling in the consolidated cases of two men, Christopher Hacker and Danan Simmons Jr., who were both sentenced under the new law in December 2019, and challenged the indefinite nature of the sentence. The men were not involved in Reagan Tokes’ case.

The Court received 155 similar appeals and held those cases, pending its rulings in State v. Hacker and State v. Simmons. Those cases were decided today.

Supreme Court Rejected Similar Challenges
In 152 cases, the Supreme Court affirmed decisions by appellate courts, in which offenders raised claims similar to Hacker and Simmons that alleged it was unconstitutional for the department to extend their sentences. The appellate courts had also found the law to be constitutional.

The Court dismissed three other cases as having been improvidently accepted.

In re Cases Held for State v. Hacker and State v. Simmons, Slip Opinion No. 2023-Ohio-3863.

Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.

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