Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Pending Ohio Legislation

There's been some media attention made the past couple of days about three bills pending in Ohio's legislature, so we thought we'd re-cap them for those who might be interested.

The Columbus Dispatch, over the weekend, had an article discussing a bill introduced in the Ohio Senate that would allow emergency medical workers to draw blood from drunken-driving suspects. That's Senate Bill 58, introduced last Feb. 26, and now in the House’s Criminal Justice Committee for hearings. It was passed by the Senate in April. (Analysis )

Opponents to the measure cite a number of weaknesses or potential problems with the idea, including the fact that EMTs generally aren't trained to collect evidence. Also mentioned in the article was that Senator Tim Grendell, who drafted the amendment including EMTs, said "details of the provision would be worked out by the EMS board and the individual agencies at local levels." Jack Reall, president of the International Assn. of Firefighters Local 67, didn’t like the idea and would have "all details written into the law." "We haven’t had a good history in the state of Ohio of passing legislation and then having an advisory board write rules around it," he told the Dispatch.

The Ohio Senate passed Senate Bill 77 almost unanimously last Wednesday. It would "require anyone arrested for a felony offense starting in July 2011 to submit DNA testing." The legislation, partially a response to a Columbus Dispatch investigation that found police & courts routinely discarding evidence after trials and prosecutors & judges routinely dismissing inmate applications for DNA testing without a stated reason, also expands the categories of convicted felons eligible for DNA testing to include those on parole who have already served prison terms and those convicted of sexually oriented offenses. ( USAToday article )

The bill, though, is much more extensive than that. There are provisions requiring the recording of "custodial interrogations" and defining those as "any interrogation involving a law enforcement officer's questioning that is reasonably likely to elicit incriminating responses;" provisions requiring the preservation of "biological evidence" by "governmental evidence-retention entities," and defining both of them. It has provisions requiring any law enforcement or criminal justice agency that conducts "live" or "photo line-ups" to adopt specific procedures for those line-ups. And it has provisions for entering DNA records into the F.B.I'.s National DNA Index System, and for requiring a court that enters a judgment vacating & setting a conviction aside because of DNA testing to issue within 90 days of the court action an order directing that all official records pertaining to that case be sealed & the proceedings deemed never to have occurred. (See Analysis )

How either of these bills would fare in light of last week's U.S. Supreme Court decision in Melendez-Duaz v. Massachusetts, which held that criminal defendants had a constitutional right under Crawford v. Washington to confront & cross-examine forensic lab technicians who prepare reports used against them in court, would remain to be seen. The Supreme Court’s decision earlier, on June 18th., in Dist. Attorneys Office v. Osborne, holding that inmates didn't have a constitutional right to DNA evidence, might also come into play.

And, finally, two weeks ago, Ohio Representative Kathleen Chandler introduced a bill to "reform the ways public notices of government business are handled."

"A major component of the bill recognizes that the 'reading public' isn’t always reading traditional newspapers, a fact most newspapers recognized years ago, prompting them to create online editions" a Cincinnati Enquirer editorial recently said. Under the bill newspapers that print legal notices would also have to include them in their online editions, and after the first printing of a government notice appears in the newspaper, second, third, and fourth notices can be run on government websites.

Introduced on June 16th., House Bill 220 "implements the recommendations of the Local Government Public Notice Task Force which was created by the General Assembly in 2006." ( Task Force Recommendations )

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