From the bench


Writ of prohibition

By Justice Paul E. Pfeifer - For The Register-Herald



In September 2004, James Smith was indicted in the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court on one count of aggravated burglary and one count of rape. In February 2005, he was re-indicted on the same two counts, in addition to one count of cocaine possession. The trial court then dismissed the September 2004 indictment.

The cocaine charge was later severed from the other charges for a separate trial. In March 2005, a jury found Smith guilty of aggravated burglary and rape. He was sentenced to an aggregate term of 17 years in prison. His conviction on those charges was appealed in 2006, but he was not successful in that appeal. That conviction has also been challenged in multiple actions for various writs, but again, the challenges were always unsuccessful.

In 2012, Smith filed a motion for a new trial, arguing that he was denied his right to effective assistance of counsel because he was convicted on a dismissed indictment. The trial court denied the motion. So Smith filed an appeal with the Second District Court of Appeals.

The Second District noted that the basis for his appeal — that he was convicted on a dismissed indictment — was without merit. The court of appeals said of his claim that he was convicted on a dismissed indictment that “this was simply not the case. The 2005 re-indictment was not dismissed and he was convicted on that indictment.”

After that ruling by the Second District, Smith turned to us — the Supreme Court of Ohio. But we declined to accept his case for review.

Then, in September 2014, Smith filed an original action with the Second District Court of Appeals. An “original action” means that the case started with the court of appeals, rather than first being filed with the trial court and then advancing through the appellate process.

In his original action with the Second District he sought a writ of prohibition against Judge Michael T. Hall, who presided over Smith’s original trial, and Judge Dennis J. Adkins, Judge Hall’s successor.

A writ of prohibition is a process by which a superior court — in this instance, a court of appeals — prevents an inferior court — such as a trial court — from exceeding its jurisdiction in matters.

In seeking his writ of prohibition against Judge Hall and Judge Adkins, Smith reiterated his claim that he had been convicted and sentenced on a dismissed indictment. The Second District determined that because Smith was using prohibition as a substitute for appeal to correct an allegedly erroneous trial court result, a writ of prohibition was not appropriate.

The court of appeals also held that because Smith was seeking release from prison, a writ of habeas corpus rather than a writ of prohibition was the appropriate action. The primary function of a writ of habeas corpus is to release someone from unlawful imprisonment. A writ of habeas corpus is not meant to determine a prisoner’s guilt or innocence; the only issue it presents is whether the prisoner is restrained of his liberty by due process.

After the court of appeals denied his claim for a writ of prohibition, Smith once again filed an appeal with us — the Supreme Court of Ohio. This time we accepted his case.

To be entitled to a writ of prohibition, Smith had to establish three things. First, that Judge Hall or Judge Adkins is about to exercise judicial or quasi-judicial power. Second, that the exercise of that power is unauthorized by law. And third, that denying the writ would result in injury for which no other adequate remedy exists in the ordinary course of law.

The last two elements can be met by a showing that the trial court “patently and unambiguously” lacked jurisdiction in the matter.

We determined that the court of appeals was correct in finding that Smith is not entitled to a writ of prohibition. In several previous cases down through the years our court has established that a writ of prohibition will not be issued “if the party seeking extraordinary relief has an adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law.”

A standard, ordinary appeal is considered an adequate remedy that will preclude a writ of prohibition. So, as our court has stated before, unless a person seeking a writ of prohibition establishes a patent and unambiguous lack of jurisdiction, extraordinary relief — which is what a writ of prohibition is: extraordinary relief — will not be issued, because that person has an adequate remedy by appeal.

Smith argued that the trial court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction because the indictment from the original case was dismissed. He maintained that the non-indictment causes his conviction and sentence to become “invalid and void.”

But his claim failed for two reasons. First, Smith’s argument that he was convicted ona dismissed indictment was wrong because he was re-indicted. He was lawfully convicted and sentenced under the second indictment, and Judge Hall had the jurisdiction to try him under that indictment.

And the second reason it failed: Smith’s claim could have been brought upon direct appeal, and this specific claim was in fact considered by the Second District and rejected in an appeal of his motion for a new trial. Thus, Smith had adequate remedies in the ordinary course of the law.

Therefore — by a seven-to-zero vote — we affirmed the court of appeals’ dismissal of his complaint for a writ of prohibition because Smith has adequate remedies in the ordinary course of the law.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The case referred to is: State ex ret: Smith v. Hall, 145 Ohio St.3d 473, 2016·0hio-I052. Case No. 2015·0201. Decided March 17,2016. Opinion Per Curiam.

Writ of prohibition

By Justice Paul E. Pfeifer

For The Register-Herald

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