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OACDL Members Maro and Juhasz Obtain Reversal in Intellectual Disability Death Penalty Case

By: Megan Patituce

If you missed the OACDL’s annual Death Penalty Seminar, you missed discussions regarding the impact this month’s Ohio Supreme Court decision in Ford will have on intellectual disability arguments made in death penalty cases.  State v. Ford, Slip Opinion No. 2019-Ohio-4539 (Nov. 7, 2019).  The Court spent considerable time walking through the relevant legal history of intellectual disability, ultimately setting aside the holding in Lott.  Instead, courts are to consider three core elements which include: (1) intellectual-functioning deficits, (2) significant adaptive deficits in any of the three adaptive-skill sets, and (3) the onset of these deficits as a minor.  Id. at ¶ 100. 

The appellate team, Attorneys Lynn Maro and John Juhasz, secured a reversal as to Mr. Ford’s death sentence, ordering the trial court to a hold a new hearing during which it is to consider, in light of these three core elements, whether Mr. Ford’s intellectual disability excludes the possibility of a death sentence.  The importance of this decision cannot be understated, given the potential impact not only to save Mr. Ford’s life, but also for death-eligible defendants across Ohio.

The Ford decision importance is not limited only to intellectual disability discussion and holding.  On appeal, Mr. Ford raised numerous issues, some of which the Court agreed with, such as the admission of certain gruesome photographs and the improper use of a taped witness statement played to the jury, which was not properly admitted either as impeachment evidence nor to refresh the witness’s recollection. 

Despite declining to reverse on the other issues raised by Mr. Ford, the Court engaged in meaningful analysis of a multitude of other issues.  The 129-page decision requires a time investment, but is wholly worthwhile, whether to brush up on long-standing precedent or to deep-dive into the Court’s evolving position as to intellectual disability in a death penalty case.

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