COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Prosecutors and advocates for rape victims are asking the Ohio Supreme Court to reinstate charges against a Cleveland man accused of attacking a woman in 1993.
The dismissal of the charges by a lower court creates a legal precedent that could jeopardize thousands of unsolved rapes being re-investigated thanks to improved DNA testing, lawyers for the groups said.
The lower court ruling allows rape suspects to argue that a long delay in prosecution violates their due process rights and is reason enough for charges to be dismissed, the attorneys said in a January court filing.
"Delay, no matter how unjustified, does not require dismissal of a charge unless a defendant first can demonstrate that he actually suffered some prejudice," said attorneys representing prosecutors and both the state and national Alliance to End Sexual Violence.
The state Supreme Court on Wednesday scheduled oral arguments in the case April 20.
At issue is the 2013 indictment of Demetrius Jones for a 1993 rape in Cleveland based on evidence found when an old rape kit was tested.
Jones was accused of raping a woman he knew on Sept. 1, 1993, at his mother's apartment, according to Ohio Supreme Court documents.
The woman identified Jones both to police and at the hospital where a rape kit was obtained, Russell Bensing, Jones' attorney, said in a court filing last fall.
Cleveland police set the investigation aside after two unsuccessful attempts to interview the victim the following week, and never tried to locate Jones or his mother, Bensing said.
Jones was indicted in 2013, one day before the deadline for prosecuting a case that old. His attorneys successfully asked a judge to throw out the case because the state took too long, and last year the 8th Ohio District Court of Appeals upheld the decision.
Jones said his mother was home during the attack and could have testified the sex was consensual. She died in 2011, more than two years before he was indicted, unable to testify "solely due to the State's sloth in prosecuting this case," Jones' attorney said.
The appeals court noted that Jones and the victim were separately involved in the criminal justice system for years afterward, meaning both were known to authorities and could have been contacted before Jones' mother died.
Because the state knew that and still didn't charge him for two decades, requiring that Jones now prove his mother's evidence could have helped him violates his due process rights, the 8th District ruled.
Prosecutors disagree and asked the Ohio Supreme Court to reject that finding.
Based on the appeals court's ruling, future criminal suspects could "make self-serving and speculative claims" that they were harmed by a delay without offering any evidence, Brett Hammond and Daniel Van, assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutors, said in a filing last summer.
Critics of the appeals court decision also say it runs counter to recent Ohio efforts to prosecute more unsolved rapes.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/andrew-welsh-huggins