Insufficiency and Evidentiary Flaws: First District Vacates Aggravated Murder Conviction
By: Megan Patituce
An exceptional First District win by the Ohio Public Defender’s Office in State v. Jones, 1st Dist. Hamilton No. C-170647, 2020-Ohio-281 (Jan. 31, 2020). Most striking is the First District’s finding that the state had failed to prove that Jones had acted with prior calculation and design. Although evidence established that Jones had intended to fight the deceased at a later date, there was no evidence that he intended to shoot the deceased on the date in question. As such, the First District held that the prosecution had presented sufficient evidence to prove that Jones acted purposefully, there was insufficient evidence to support a conclusion that he had acted with a plan.
The First District also engaged in a thorough discussion of the evidentiary errors which permeated Jones’s trial. At trial, defense counsel had asked a question as to whether guns found during the execution of a search warrant were high enough to be out of a child’s reach. The trial court ruled that this question opened the door to the state’s attacks of Jones’s character. The First District found that the defense had not opened the door and that because Jones’s credibility was at issue as a result of arguing self-defense, the state’s character assassination were so prejudicial as to undermine his defense.
The First District also concluded that the trial court improperly excluded defense evidence, such as Jones’s testimony regarding prior instances of violence by the deceased and the deceased’s social media posts regarding violence. The First District found the errors to be anything but harmless. The effective knee-capping of Jones’s defense violated his constitutional right to present a complete defense.
This is a decision worth a read and tracking any subsequent appellate activity should it be taken up to the Ohio Supreme Court. For now at least, it is a strong win for the preservation of constitutional rights.