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November 18, 2021

Interesting split Ohio Supreme Court ruling at the intersection of collateral consequences, gun rights and victims' rights

The Ohio Supreme Court today handed down an interesting decision today in State ex rel. Suwalksi v. Peeler, No. 2021-Ohio-4061. (Oh. Nov. 18, 2021) (available here), in a case concerning collateral consequences, gun rights and victims' rights.  Chief Justice O'Connor authored the majority opinion in the case, which starts this way:

Appellant, Roy Ewing, was convicted in Warren County of misdemeanor domestic violence for assaulting his then-wife, appellee, Jamie Suwalski.  As a result of that conviction, federal law prohibits Ewing from possessing a firearm, see 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(9), unless, as relevant in this case, the domestic-violence offense is one for which Ewing “has had [his] civil rights restored” under Ohio law, 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(33)(B)(ii).  Ewing filed in the Warren County Court of Common Pleas an application under R.C. 2923.14 for relief from his federal firearms disability, and Judge Robert W. Peeler, a judge of that court, granted Ewing’s application and issued an order restoring his firearms rights.

Suwalski sought a writ of prohibition in the Twelfth District Court of Appeals, seeking to prevent Judge Peeler’s order from being effective and invoking Article I, Section 10a of the Ohio Constitution, also known as “Marsy’s Law.”  The court of appeals permitted Ewing to intervene.  The court of appeals granted the writ, holding that Judge Peeler lacked the judicial power to relieve Ewing of the federal firearms disability imposed by 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(9). 2020-Ohio-3233, 155 N.E.3d 47, ¶ 24.

We agree that a writ of prohibition is warranted, but our rationale for that conclusion differs from that of the court of appeals.  Because Suwalski has established the elements necessary for a writ of prohibition, we affirm the judgment of the court of appeals.

Justice Kennedy authored the dissent, which was joined by two other Justices and starts this way:

Article I, Section 10a of the Ohio Constitution, also known as “Marsy’s Law,” enumerates specific rights afforded to victims of crime, including the rights “to be treated with fairness and respect for the victim’s safety, dignity and privacy” and “to reasonable protection from the accused or any person acting on behalf of the accused.” Marsy’s Law permits a victim of a crime to “petition the court of appeals for the applicable district” to vindicate his or her enumerated rights.  Article I, Section 10a(B), Ohio Constitution.

Relying on Marsy’s Law, appellee, Jamie Suwalski, filed a complaint for a writ of prohibition in the Twelfth District Court of Appeals against Warren County Court of Common Pleas Judge Robert W. Peeler, asserting that he violated her rights under Marsy’s Law when he purported to relieve her ex-husband, appellant, Roy Ewing, of a federal firearms disability.  The court of appeals granted the writ. 2020-Ohio-3233, 155 N.E.3d 47, ¶ 24-25.  However, based on the plain language of the enumerated rights established in Marsy’s Law, the rights that Suwalski has asserted are not implicated in the underlying relief-from-disability matter.  Suwalski has not claimed to have been treated without fairness and respect for her safety in the matter, and Ewing is no longer an accused person.  Because she asserts no other grounds establishing a right to the relief that she seeks in prohibition, I would reverse the judgment of the Twelfth District and dismiss the action. Because the majority does not, I dissent.

November 18, 2021 at 04:24 PM | Permalink


I’m hardly qualified to opine on matters of OH law, but—just going by the excerpt—if the dissent really hangs its hat on the mere fact that “accused” is in past tense, that seems quite flimsy to me.

I mean, after conviction, it’s true a defendant is no longer accused. But the only difference is that s/he is then both accused and convicted. It’s not like the former component magically disappears.

By the same token, the victim remains a victim after conviction. If anything, conviction means s/he’s become a proven victim, instead of merely an alleged one.

Relatedly, it’d be rather odd—per the dissent’s logic—for a proven victim to have fewer rights than merely an alleged one.

Also, I don’t get why the dissent is harping on the “treated with fairness” provision. Wouldn’t the victim’s claim in this case fall more appropriately under the provision about “reasonable protection” from the abuser?

I assume Prof. B. took an exception from his usual policy of not covering state cases because this one’s in his backyard. Maybe he can school me on the likely numerous places where I’ve misunderstood OH law.

In any event, 4-3 decision split along partisan lines except for the CJ, so very close case here…

Posted by: kotodama | Nov 19, 2021 12:40:48 AM

I am always eager to cover state law, kotodama, but it is hard to always know what laws and rulings in what states will be of broad interest (apart from capital issues which so often get SCOTUS and other national attention). Please feel free to flag for me any and all state sentencing developments that appear to you to be blogworthy.

Posted by: Doug B. | Nov 19, 2021 8:52:36 AM

It wasn't a criticism, just an observation. Clearly I did enjoy this quick detour into a state SC ruling too. (Maybe that was already obvious, but on the interwebs, one can sometimes be unsure.)

No promises but I'll try to relay any noteworthy state happenings if I encounter them.


Posted by: kotodama | Nov 19, 2021 7:52:23 PM

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