Michael Woody, CIT Coordinator for Ohio, former CIT international president, law enforcement liaison for the Criminal Justice Coordinating Center of Excellence, credited with starting first CIT program in Ohio
COLUMBUS, Ohio –Defendants could escape the death penalty if they suffer from schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder and delusional disorder during the time of the crime, under a bill passed Wednesday in the Ohio House.
Ohio criminal law allows people to be found not guilty by reason of insanity. People can also be found incompetent to stand trial. HB 136 would apply when a person is too impaired to “exercise rational judgment” to conform to the law or appreciate the nature, consequences or wrongness of their conduct.
People can receive death sentences in Ohio if they’re convicted of aggravated murder.
Under HB 136, if a defendant’s “serious mental illness” at the time of the aggravated murder is challenged, the court can order an evaluation. If the person is ultimately found guilty of aggravated murder, they would be ineligible for the death penalty, assuming the evaluation showed they were seriously mentally ill during the crime.
Instead, the person would be sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Rep. Brett Hudson Hillyer, a Republican from Tuscarawas County and an attorney, is sponsoring the bill. He said that the legislation is the result of a 2014 task force that reviewed the state’s administration of the death penalty. He said HB 136 was drafted in consultation with former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton.
Two U.S. Supreme Court cases found that juveniles and impaired people could be not executed due to “diminished mental capacity.” Hillyer said that serious mental illnesses diminish people’s capacity.
Hillyer said that Ohio law has a similar exception of the death penalty for juveniles and developmentally disabled people.
“This bill isn’t about guilt or innocence,” he said. “You can still be found guilty of the capital offense of aggravated murder.”
The bill is retroactive. People on death row can seek an evaluation about their mental health and have their sentence reduced to life without parole. It’s not immediately clear how much that will cost the state. Capital cases exceed the cost of life imprisonment cases of up to $1 million to $3 million per case, due to legal appeals required before the state executes someone. But a legislative fiscal analysis also evaluations will cost public defenders, county prosecutors and possibly the county sheriffs more money in paperwork and court motions.
There are 142 people on death row in Ohio.
The Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association opposed the bill for the past four years as overly broad. People with mental illness or developmental disabilities can already avoid the death penalty, and HB 136 is just for people “whose mental illness is so weak that they were unable to create reasonable doubt in the mind of even one single juror” that they were not guilty by reason of insanity, said the organization’s Executive Eirector Louis Tobin.
Ohio executions are on hold for now, as Gov. Mike DeWine and officials in the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction search for a new means to administer the death penalty. A federal magistrate in January ruled the old method of a three-drug cocktail was unconstitutional.
HB 136 now heads to the Ohio Senate for consideration.
Ohio Governor John Kasich wants a game plan from the Ohio Task Force on Community-Police Relations by April 30 describing actions that can be taken to help ensure that minorities “feel safe and that they are not being targeted.”
Collaborating with black lawmakers, Kasich announced the task force last month after police shot and killed a 12-year-old boy in Cleveland who had an air pistol and a man in Beavercreek who was carrying a pellet rifle taken off a shelf inside a Wal-Mart.
The task force will be led by Ohio Department of Public Safety Director John Born. Former State Sen. Nina Turner, D-Cleveland, will serve as co-chairwoman. The task force will conduct public hearings to solicit the views of Ohioans.
Former U.S. Sen. and Gov. George V. Voinovich; former U.S. Rep. Louis Stokes, D-Cleveland; and former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton will serve as honorary co-chairs.
The panel includes lawmakers, police officers, clergy, criminal-justice experts and other community leaders, including some with ties to the NAACP and the Ohio Civil Rights Commission.
14 JAN 2015 – The courtroom was standing room-only this afternoon as Ohio Supreme Court Justices Sharon L. Kennedy and Judith L. French took their ceremonial oaths of office for their six-year terms. Former Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, who French replaced by appointment in December 2012, emceed the ceremony.