On Thursday, the Washington Supreme Court struck down that state’s death penalty due to racial bias and arbitrary application. Washington became the 20th state to abandon the death penalty. Ohio lawmakers would be wise to follow suit.
Adoption of a rule directing that the trial judge is the appropriate authority for the appointment of experts for indigent defendants. The rule should further provide that the decision pertaining to the appointment of experts shall be made, on the record, at one of the prescribed Pre-Trial Conferences.
If defense counsel requests, the demand for appointment of the expert shall be made in-camera ex parte, and the order concerning the appointment shall be under seal.
Upon establishing counsels’ respective compliance with discovery obligations, the question of the appointment of experts (including determination of projected expert fees based upon analysis of expert’s time to be applied to the case as well as consideration of incremental payment of expert fees as case progresses) would be decided by the court, which decision would be subject to immediate appeal, under seal, to the appropriate Court of Appeals. The trial court judge shall make written findings as to the basis for any denial. Although concerns have been raised as to the ability of the Appellate Court to provide the anticipated, necessary expedited hearing within a reasonable time-frame, the Joint Task Force suggests that this issue be elevated to the status of a final appealable order and that the necessary expedited appellate process be spelled out in the statute.
Should the present process of appointment of indigent counsel by the judiciary continue, the main objective should always be to assure the best educationally experienced and qualified candidate, who is available (within the county or outside the county), and who is otherwise willing to take on the responsibilities associated with the case for an appropriate fee and accompanying expenses, is appointed. A uniform fee schedule for such services across the State of Ohio must be a necessary consideration to assure the equal protection and due process for the accused in a capital case.
Adoption of reporting standards to provide complete transparency of record, including requirements to ensure better record keeping by the trial judge and the provision of additional, detailed resource information necessary to assure strict compliance with due process, which information shall be submitted to the Supreme Court upon completion of the case. Such resource information may include unique Constitutional issues, unique evidentiary issues, significant motions, plea rationale, pre-sentence investigation, and any additional information required by the Rule 20 Committee or the Supreme Court of Ohio. Additional types of resource information could be developed as part of the mandated educational process conducted by the Ohio Judicial College.
The Joint Task Force believes that some of the recommendations above could be accomplished by the adoption of a separate Criminal Rule for Capital Cases. The Joint Task Force recommends that such a rule be adopted and provide for the mandatory training of attorneys and judges (Recommendation 49), the selection and appointment of indigent counsel in capital cases (Recommendation 51), and the enforcement of the ABA Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases and the Supplementary Guidelines for the Mitigation Function of Defense Teams (Recommendations 11 and 12).