Thursday, April 29, 2010

Ohio Changes Criminal Discovery Rules

The web page of the Ohio Supreme Court announced yesterday changes in criminal discovery rules:

The Supreme Court of Ohio today filed with the Ohio General Assembly final amendments to the annual update of the Rules of Practice and Procedure, including changes to the criminal discovery process that were developed through a collaborative process led by the late Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer and including the criminal defense bar and prosecutors.

The amendments concern changes to the rules of criminal procedure and the rules of appellate procedure. Specifically, the amendments to Criminal Rule 16 call for a more open discovery process, and the revision of several rules of appellate procedure implements a procedure for en banc consideration in courts of appeals when separate three-judge panels within the same court of appeals reach conflicting decisions on the same matter of law.

The new discovery process would allow defense counsel access to materials that, under the current rule, prosecutors did not have to divulge. Changes in Crim.R. 16 also call for establishing a defendant’s reciprocal duty of disclosure and seek to protect victims and witnesses from potential harassment.

The discovery reforms were developed through an extraordinary cooperative process that involved leaders of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association and Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Chief Justice Moyer had urged them to collectively develop proposed rules that would be considered for adoption by the Supreme Court.

“The patience and spirit of cooperation required to realize these important and necessary changes to the discovery process speak volumes about Chief Justice Moyer’s collaborative, collegial nature,” said Justice Paul E. Pfeifer. “His vision and persistence and, finally, his stubbornness in supporting a just cause, led to this remarkable achievement for our legal system. For well over a decade, he worked for this change, and we have been through numerous starts and stops. But today, we stand in a great place – the proposed Crim.R. 16 emerged from this court by a unanimous vote, has the support of prosecutors and defense attorneys, and, we think, bipartisan support in the General Assembly. All of that is the direct result of Tom’s stewardship.”

The en banc provisions of the appellate procedure rules result from the Supreme Court’s decision in McFadden v. Cleveland State Univ. The Court held that “if the judges of a court of appeals determine that two or more decisions of the court on which they sit are in conflict, they must convene en banc to resolve the conflict.” Language was also added to the proposed amendments to ensure that an order or entry in reconsideration that results in an intra-district conflict also could be subject to en banc consideration.

Other changes to the criminal procedure rules include amending Crim. R. 12(K) to accommodate the new interlocutory appeal to review a trial court’s ruling on a prosecutor’s non-disclosure of material granted under proposed Crim. R. 16(F)(2). Amendments to Crim. R. 41 permit applications and approvals of search warrants to be accomplished by electronic means, including facsimile transmission.

The amendments were adopted unanimously by the seven Justices of the Supreme Court, with the exception of Crim. R. 41, which was adopted 6-1 with Justice Terrence O’Donnell voting no.

According to the Ohio Constitution, amendments to rules of procedure must be filed with the General Assembly. After the initial filing, which must occur before Jan. 15, there was a period of public comment; the Court revised the amendments and filed final versions with the General Assembly before the constitutionally mandated deadline of May 1. The amendments take effect on July 1, unless before that date the General Assembly adopts a concurrent resolution of disapproval. The process also included another public comment period after the amendments were first published last October.

The text of the rule change is available through this link. (Mike Frisch)

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