Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Ohio Pre-S.B. No. 2 Indeterminately Sentenced Prisoners Who Took a Plea are Entitled to Meaningful N

Ohio Pre-S.B. No. 2 Indeterminately Sentenced Prisoners Who Took a Plea are Entitled to Meaningful New Parole Hearings

by John E. Dannenberg

The Ohio State Court of Appeals, Tenth Appellate District, ruled that the class of Ohio state prisoners who, prior to the enactment of S.B. No. 2 in 1996, had pled guilty or no contest to lesser or fewer charges than they were indicted for and who have now reached parole eligibility on their resulting indeterminate sentences, are constitutionally entitled to new meaningful parole hearings. In so ruling, the appellate court resolved some of the inconsistencies that arose when S.B. No. 2 abolished indeterminate sentences for most crimes and set determinate terms that could result in lesser punishment for similar crimes committed after the 1996 enactment.

Douglas Ankrom and numerous other parole-eligible indeterminately sentenced Ohio prisoners who had taken a plea for their convictions had successfully sued Harry Hageman and other officials of the Ohio Adult Parole Authority (OAPA) in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. That court agreed with plaintiffs that the OAPA's post-S.B. No. 2 changes to its methods for determining the risk of release of pre-S.B. No.2 indeterminately sentenced prisoners violated the prisoners' rights to due process and equal protection of the laws, as well as their contractual rights under their plea agreements. The challenged method, dubbed the matrix, attempted to quantify each prisoner's risk according to two axis's of numerical values assigned to the felony level of their most serious offense and to their history-based risk of recidivism. The matrix yielded five possible gradations of parole risk, indicating both if and when the prisoner should be paroled.

However, on March 1, 1998, OAPA revised (without regulatory change or approval) the matrix. They retained the recidivism risk rating factor but replaced the former felony level of the offense with a new creation, the offense category. While at first this might appear to mirror the earlier scheme, a serious discrepancy appeared because a prisoner's offense category may include scoring related to offenses he was originally only charged with but not convicted of due to plea bargains. Thus, post-1998, all pre-S.B. No. 2 sentenced prisoners who had taken pleas found themselves in the disadvantaged position of being parole ineligible until they had done the time for the greater convictions they had avoided through their pleas.

Following a pro se lawsuit filed in February 2001, the public defender entered an appearance and gained class certification. In August 2004 the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the prisoner plaintiffs, and the OAPA appealed. The appellate court held that the OAPA impermissibly attempted to exercise the same function of the judiciary in executing its own authority by setting standards that in effect disregarded the trial court's sentence. Curiously, the court found that the OAPA was not bound to make regulatory changes under the APA to implement its policies because they are only discretionary policies, not administrative rules.

Accordingly, the appeals court sustained the gravamen of the Court of Common Pleas' ruling, leaving open for future interpretation the meaning of the subjective expression meaningful parole hearing. See: Ankrom v. Hageman, Ohio Court of Appeals, Tenth District, 2005 WL 737833 (unpublished).

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login