(January 20, 2016) — In a rebuke to a victim who waited years for her rape kit to be tested, an Ohio court has ruled that prosecuting the alleged perpetrator unconstitutionally violates his due process rights. RAINN has joined with partner organizations to file an amicus brief, asking the Ohio Court of Appeals to overturn the decision.
“This decision, if it stands, could have a devastating impact for countless victims seeking justice in the courts,” says Rebecca O’Connor, RAINN’s vice president for public policy.
Last summer, a panel of judges in the 8th District Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s decision to dismiss the charges against the defendant, Demetrius Jones, in a 1993 rape case. Jones was charged with the rape of rape of a 23-year-old woman who told law enforcement she was held at knifepoint and raped while visiting Jones at his mother’s apartment. Following the assault, the victim went to the hospital and had a rape kit taken.
Jones maintained that he had a consensual sexual encounter with the victim and that his mother, who was home at the time, could corroborate his story. The case was closed, after police deemed the victim “unreachable” after two attempts to visit her at her home.
In 2012, the case came to the attention of a state sexual assault kit task force, which sent the previously unanalyzed rape kit for testing. The kit was returned to Cleveland police in June 2012. In July 2013, after evidence from the kit resulted in a “hit” in the national DNA database, CODIS, the police re-opened the case and indicted Jones on August 30, 2013, one day before the 20-year statute of limitations ran out. (Note: Ohio’s statute of limitation was recently extended to 25 years.)
Jones’ lawyers argued, successfully, that the delay in prosecuting Jones led to “actual prejudice” against their client, citing the fact that his mother, who could have offered him a statement affirming his innocence, had passed away in interceding years. Appeals judge Larry Jones agreed with the defense, despite longstanding precedent that required a defendant to prove that not only did a delay in prosecution render evidence unavailable, but also that that evidence would ultimately have been of value to their defense.
In his decision, Jones said, “[T]he record here demonstrates that the state merely failed to take action for a substantial period. After this inaction of the state, requiring Jones to demonstrate that any missing evidence or unavailable witness testimony would have been exculpatory is simply violative of his due process rights.”
RAINN disagrees, says O’Connor. “Ohio state law, in 1993, was clear: the state had 20 years to pursue a claim in the criminal justice system in this case. Now, as we sort through backlogged, untested rape kits, a single judge has decided to go against state law and the precedent set by the Ohio Supreme Court. The decision is a blow to survivors who have already endured so much and goes against the public interest in putting the justice system to work as intended to take sexual predators off our streets.”
The amicus brief, which calls on the higher court to overturn this decision and allow charges to go ahead against Jones in the 1993 rape, was filed by attorney Kevin Martin, of the firm Goodwin Procter, LLP, pro bono counsel to the Joyful Heart Foundation. Also signed on in support are the organizations AEquitas and the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence.
This article is by RAINN