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In re E.S.: Dismissal with Prejudice Where Material, Exculpatory Evidence not Timely Produced

By: Megan Patituce

The Eighth District Court of Appeals was recently called upon to confirm that material, exculpatory evidence does, in fact, need to be provided to the defense and courts may, upon careful consideration, dismiss cases where the state has failed to comply.  This seemingly unambiguous proposition was reaffirmed in In re E.S., 8th Dist. Cuyahoga No. 109129, 2020-Ohio-3598, which involved juvenile allegations of felonious assault and abduction. 

The alleged assault occurred in 2016.  A complaint was filed against the juvenile in 2017.  The matter did not proceed to an adjudicatory hearing until 2019.  At that 2019 hearing, the state attempted to introduce a 911 call that included the alleged victim’s statement that she was not injured and only needed to make a report.  The recording had never been provided to the defense.  The judge, over the state’s objection, affirmed the magistrate’s decision to dismiss the case with prejudice after finding that the state had violated not only Juv. R. 24, but also the alleged delinquent’s constitutional rights. 

The state appealed, arguing that because the evidence was provided at the hearing, there had been no violation.  The Eighth District disagreed, relying on the plain meaning of Ohio’s Juvenile Rules, which require the production of all material favorable to the defense and material to guilt or punishment.

The standard and considerations set forth in Lakewood v. Papadelis apply to discovery violations in cases brought against adults and juveniles “equally.”  Here, the Eighth District made clear that the evidence was material and exculpatory making this a “serious discovery violation.” As the court had given “careful consideration” in a “well-reasoned decision,” the Eighth District did not find the decision to be an abuse of discretion.  That the importance of providing timely discovery is still routinely debated in courtrooms across Ohio shows just how far we still have to go before fundamental fairness becomes the standard.

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