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Res Judicata Doesn't Bar Ohio Post-release Control Challenge

The Ohio Supreme Court has held that “when a criminal defendant is improperly sentenced to post-release control, res judicata does not bar the defendant from collaterally attacking his conviction for escape due to an earlier post-release-control sentencing error.”

In 1998, Donald Jack Billiter III was convicted of a first-degree felony and sentenced to three years in prison and post-release control of “up to a maximum of three (3) years.” Ohio law actually mandated a post-release control term of five years.

Billiter violated his post-release control and pleaded guilty to escape in 2004. He was initially sentenced to probation, which was later revoked and he was sentenced to six years in prison.

In 2009, the Ohio Supreme Court held in State v. Bloomer, 909 N.E.2d 1254 (Ohio 2009) that an improperly imposed post-release control term cannot be enforced.

In response, Billiter moved to withdraw his guilty plea on the escape charge, on the theory that he had never been legally placed on post-release control. He claimed he was “actually innocent” of escape and was serving a sentence that was a legal nullity.

The Ohio Supreme Court agreed, noting that it had “consistently stated, if a trial court imposes a sentence that is unauthorized by law, the sentence is void.” The Court then rejected the state’s argument that Billiter’s challenge was barred by res judicata, observing that it had held in State v. Fischer, 942 N.E.2d 332 (Ohio 2010) “that a void post-release-control sentence ‘is not precluded from appellate review by principles of res judicata, and may be reviewed at any time, on direct appeal or collateral attack.’” See: Ohio v. Billiter, 134 Ohio St.3d 103, 980 N.E.2d 960 (Ohio 2012).

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