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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Ashford L. Thompson v. State of Ohio, Case no. 2010-1373
Summit County Court of Common Pleas

Brandon Lee Hoffman v. State of Ohio, Case no. 2013-0688
Sixth District Court of Appeals (Lucas County)

Death Penalty

Ashford L. Thompson v. State of Ohio, Case no. 2010-1373
Summit County Court of Common Pleas

Ashford Thompson is appealing his conviction and death sentence for the shooting death of a Twinsburg police officer during a 2008 traffic stop.

In July of that year, officer Joshua Miktarian stopped Thompson in the early morning hours for playing music loudly in his car and possible drunken driving. Thompson was a nurse who worked in nursing homes and clients’ residences. Because his private jobs were often in dangerous neighborhoods, he obtained a concealed carry permit to carry a handgun.

Miktarian arrested Thompson and started to handcuff him. They struggled, and Thompson pulled his gun and shot the officer four times in the head. Thompson then fled with his girlfriend, who had been in the car. Police soon found and arrested him.

In June 2010, a jury convicted Thompson of aggravated murder, escape, resisting arrest, tampering with evidence, and carrying a concealed weapon, as well as three death specifications. The trial court sentenced him to death based on the jury’s recommendation.

Thompson has exercised his right to appeal his convictions and death sentence directly to the Ohio Supreme Court.

In his appeal, Thompson’s attorneys argue that 18 legal and procedural errors were made during his trial, and those errors are grounds for the court to reverse his convictions and death sentence.

Among the arguments they make in their brief to the court:

On behalf of the state, attorneys from the Summit County Prosecutor’s Office respond in their brief to the court:

Docket entries, memoranda, briefs (including amicus briefs), and other information about this case may be accessed through the case docket.

Representing Ashford L. Thompson: Kimberly Rigby, 614.466.5394

Representing state of Ohio from the Summit County Prosecutor’s Office: Richard Kasay, 330.643.2800

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Can Police Officers Rely on Validity of Arrest Warrants Issued Without Probable Cause Determination?

Brandon Lee Hoffman v. State of Ohio, Case no. 2013-0688
Sixth District Court of Appeals (Lucas County)

ISSUE: Can law enforcement officers, in good faith, reasonably rely on the validity of arrest warrants issued without a magisterial finding of probable cause?

On November 11, 2011, a Toledo police detective filed criminal complaints and requests for arrest warrants charging Brandon Hoffman with three misdemeanor offenses for stealing siding, downspouts, and gutters from a neighbor’s home. None of the complaints included the source of the information provided or explained why Hoffman was thought to have committed the violations. The warrants were issued without any official making a probable cause determination (finding a reasonable basis for believing that a crime may have been committed).

Two weeks later, during a police investigation of the murder of Scott Holzhauer, Hoffman became a person of interest in the case, and the investigating officers learned of his active arrest warrants when they searched his name in their database. They went to his house to execute the warrants, and during the arrest, police discovered Hoffman had a gun that was later determined to belong to Holzhauer. Holzhauer’s cell phone was also found near Hoffman, lying in plain view at the time of his arrest.

The police then obtained a search warrant and discovered more evidence when they went back to Hoffman’s house. He was eventually charged with aggravated murder and aggravated robbery, and prior to his trial, Hoffman asked the court to suppress evidence, arguing that the arrest warrants for his misdemeanor charges were invalid because no probable cause determination had been made. He believed the police had, therefore, obtained the evidence illegally.

The trial court agreed that the arrest warrants were invalid, but found that the arresting officers, in good faith, reasonably relied on the warrants. It denied Hoffman’s request, and when he chose not to contest the charges, the court sentenced him to life in prison without parole.

Hoffman appealed to the Sixth District Court of Appeals, arguing that the trial court erred when it denied his motion to suppress. The court of appeals agreed with the trial court, concluding that suppressing the evidence, given the facts of this case, would not meet the requirement that excluding evidence must deter police officers from engaging in deliberate, reckless, or illegal conduct in the future.

Hoffman then filed a notice of appeal with the Ohio Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.

Hoffman’s attorney argues that the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 14 of the Ohio Constitution provide that warrants cannot be issued without a probable cause determination. He maintains that the validity of an arrest warrant depends on a neutral judicial officer finding that there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed by the person named on the warrant.

In his brief to the court, Hoffman’s attorney contends that the “subjective belief and good faith of the officers are meaningless” in this case. Citing the U.S. Supreme Court decision in U.S. v. Leon (1984), he argues that good faith reliance is subject to the existence of a neutral review for probable cause, and without this review, evidence must be excluded from trial. No officer can rely in good faith on a warrant that merely contains the statutory elements of a crime without any factual assertions to indicate that the person listed on the complaint, in fact, committed the crime, he maintains.

Hoffman’s attorney also asserts that when a judicial officer fails to perform a neutral probable cause determination, the judicial officer becomes a rubber stamp for the police, and the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule does not apply. In this case, police officers obtained arrest warrants for 17 years without the fundamental protection of a probable cause determination conducted by a neutral judicial officer, and the evidence obtained as a result of this glaring flaw in the system must be excluded from trial, he concludes.

Attorneys for the state argue that the exclusion of evidence is meant to prevent future violations of the Fourth Amendment by police officers, not to remedy the breach of rights already suffered by the person asking for suppression. Citing the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Herring v. United States (2009), the state’s attorneys assert that excluding evidence is a last resort, and courts can only exclude evidence when it will sufficiently deter future police misconduct.

The state’s attorneys contend that the police officers who arrested Hoffman did not submit the original complaints or requests for the warrants, so they had no reason to doubt the validity of the warrants. Thus, the officers had a good faith basis for relying on the arrest warrants, and excluding the evidence would do nothing to deter future behavior, they maintain.

The state’s attorneys also argue that the lack of probable cause determination was the fault of the Toledo Municipal Court and the exclusion of evidence cannot be used to deter judicial misconduct because Herring only allows for exclusion when the error was made by law enforcement. If the officers cannot rely, in good faith, on active arrest warrants in their database, then police officers unfairly bear the burden of mistakes made by a different branch of the government, they conclude.

On March 27, the court granted permission for the Ohio Attorney General to share the time allotted to the Lucas County prosecutors for oral argument.

An amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief supporting Hoffman’s position has been submitted collectively by the Ohio Public Defender, Cuyahoga County Public Defender’s Office, Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and Maumee Valley Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Association.

The Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association and Ohio Attorney General Michael DeWine have filed amicus briefs supporting the state.

Docket entries, memoranda, briefs (including amicus briefs), and other information about this case may be accessed through the case docket.

Representing Brandon Hoffman: David Klucas, 419.255.1102

Representing the state of Ohio from the Lucas County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office: Evy Jarrett, 419.213.4700

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These informal previews are prepared by the Supreme Court's Office of Public Information to provide the news media and other interested persons with a brief overview of the legal issues and arguments advanced by the parties in upcoming cases scheduled for oral argument. The previews are not part of the case record, and are not considered by the Court during its deliberations.

Parties interested in receiving additional information are encouraged to review the case file available in the Supreme Court Clerk's Office (614.387.9530), or to contact counsel of record.