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Question raised about whether prior nonconsensual sex can be addressed in rape trials

DAN TREVAS
Supreme Court
Public Information Office

Published: March 25, 2019

A teenager in Cuyahoga County told her high school principal in March 2016 that she was being sexually abused by the man she viewed as a father figure. The man, who was convicted, argues to the Ohio Supreme Court that the state’s rape shield law should be interpreted as allowing him to introduce information about the victim’s earlier nonconsensual sexual activity, such as sexual abuse.

Man’s Mother Offers Home to Girl

The teen, identified as D.S., entered foster care at a very young age. Cedric Jeffries had an on-and-off relationship with D.S.’s mother that included having two children with her, but D.S. isn’t his child. Jeffries’ mother obtained custody of D.S., who was about 6 years old. The girl moved in with Jeffries’ mother at the home where Jeffries also lived.

After D.S.’s principal reported the sexual abuse allegation to authorities, Jeffries was indicted and found guilty of rape and kidnapping.

The Eighth District Court of Appeals upheld Jeffries’ convictions, and he appealed to the Supreme Court. The Court agreed to consider only whether the state’s rape shield law blocks evidence about a victim’s earlier nonconsensual activity, including sexual abuse, unless a specified exception exists.

Man Wants to Discuss Girl’s Earlier Sexual Abuse

Before and at trial, Jeffries asked the court to allow him to ask D.S. about a report she made when she was a young child in foster care that a foster brother sexually assaulted her. The court prohibited the questioning based on the safeguards in the rape shield statute, R.C 2907.02(D).

A 1979 Ohio Supreme Court decision explained that the legislature enacted the law to protect the accuser’s privacy by “discourag[ing] the tendency in rape cases to try the victim rather than the defendant,” and by excluding inflammatory and harmful evidence.

Conflicting Views of Rape Shield Law

Jeffries maintains that the law’s language refers to barring consideration in court of only information about sexual activity that was consensual. To interpret the law any other way leads to absurd or unreasonable results, in his opinion. He argues that the truth-finding process was hindered in his case because of this misinterpretation of the law.

The Cuyahoga County prosecutor references the definitions of “sexual activity,” “sexual conduct,” and “sexual contact” in state law for sex offenses. When the General Assembly wants to include or exclude something specific in a definition, it does so, the prosecutor argues. However, in the rape shield statute, the legislature didn’t restrict the types of sexual activities that are prohibited from being discussed in court to only consensual sex. The prosecutor adds that the Supreme Court confirmed this interpretation in a 1992 decision, State v. Boggs.

Oral Argument Details

The Court will hear four cases on Tuesday, March 26. On Wednesday, March 27, the Court will consider four more appeals, including State v. Jeffries. Oral arguments begin at 9 a.m. at the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center in Columbus. All arguments are streamed live online at sc.ohio.gov and broadcast live and archived on The Ohio Channel.

Case Previews Published

In addition to the information provided in this article, the Supreme Court’s Office of Public Information released in-depth previews of the cases.

Tuesday, March 26

A well-known Dayton restaurant owner was convicted in 2012 of insurance fraud, making false alarms, and corrupt activity following a fire at one of her restaurants and the burglary of her home. For a second time, the Montgomery County prosecutor in State v. Christian appeals the trial court’s sentencing of the restaurant owner. The prosecutor maintains that the trial court could issue consecutive sentences on two counts even though the court imposed the sentences for those offenses concurrently during the first sentencing hearing. The restaurant owner counters that she already completed her prison time for one of those offenses, so the court couldn’t sentence her again on that count.

Residents of a Portage County city upset with a proposed sand and gravel mining operation near their homes successfully urged the city to ban mining as a permitted land use. The mining company appealed the rejection of its zoning application, and a trial court found the city acted improperly in denying the permit. The trial court’s opinion was reversed by an appeals court. In Shelly Materials v. Streetsboro Planning and Zoning Commission, the Court will consider whether the appellate court exceeded its authority when it overruled the trial court.

In January 2015, the publisher of a small community news publication attended a village council meeting where the council conducted its annual vote to elect a president pro tempore to serve as the acting village mayor. The council used a secret ballot process to conduct the vote, and the village solicitor announced the winner but didn’t state how each council member voted. Citing the state’s Open Meetings Act, the publisher filed a lawsuit against the village seeking a declaratory judgment that the secret ballot was illegal. In State ex rel. More Bratenahl v. Village of Bratenahl, the Court will consider whether secret ballot votes during public meetings violates the law.

In the 1990s, the Ohio Supreme Court sealed the results of a law school graduate’s 1991 bar exam until she meets the profession’s character, fitness, and moral qualifications. Her applications to be admitted to practice law in the state were denied in 1993 and 2000 because she didn’t disclose certain information or misrepresented her involvement in legal matters. The Court’s character and fitness board again rejected her most recent application, in 2013, for similar omissions. In re Application of Holzhauser-Graber is her appeal of that decision. She asserts that she has rehabilitated herself, her omissions don’t reflect a lack of candor, and she has demonstrated the character and fitness to practice law in Ohio.

Wednesday, March 27

In State v. Howard, a Madison County man convicted of sex offenses in Franklin County has violated the conditions of his community-control sentence twice. At the second hearing about whether to revoke community control, the trial court sentenced the man to prison. In an unusual alignment of views, the man and the prosecutor agree in this appeal that trial courts must make specific findings before imposing consecutive prison sentences after revoking community control, that a defendant can appeal from that hearing, and that a prison term imposed at a revocation hearing is a new sentence. However, the man and the prosecutor disagree about whether the court made the required findings at the second revocation hearing.

A residential property owner sought to subdivide her property into lots to build additional homes. The city planning commission rejected the plan. Under city code, the commission was required to prepare a list of conditions, which if complied with by the property owner would lead to a plan’s approval. The city law director sent the woman the rejection letter 33 days after the decision. The woman appealed, and a trial court ruled that under state law, any subdivision plan not accepted or rejected within 30 days is deemed approved. In Wesolowski v. Broadview Heights Planning Commission, the city maintains that under its home-rule authority, it isn’t bound by the 30-day timeline in state law.

A Hamilton County man was named in an August 2015 three-count indictment in which he was charged with forcible rape and two counts of felonious assault. A jury found him guilty of the assault charges, and the judge declared a mistrial on the rape charge. An appellate court dismissed the case, stating that the court couldn’t consider the case until after the state decided to either retry or dismiss the rape charge. In State v. Craig, both the offender and the prosecutor argue that recent Ohio Supreme Court decisions make it clear that convictions from a multi-count indictment charge can be appealed while an unresolved charge remains pending.


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