The Briefcase by Russ Bensing | Musings by an Ohio criminal lawyer

Welcome to The Briefcase

Commentary and analysis of Ohio criminal law and whatever else comes to mind, served with a dash of snark.  Continue Reading »


Chilling advocacy

Every lawyer has a judge he'd rather not appear in front of.  There's bad blood:  something was said that was interpreted the wrong way, or maybe the lawyer was a little too zealous in his advocacy.  That's not a big deal here in Cuyahoga County.  There are 34 judges, and you can literally go years without having anything in front of a particular one.

I've often wondered what it would be like to practice in a small county.  I guess it'd be a real problem if you pissed off the only judge on the bench.

Robert Bright could tell you all about that.

Continue reading "Chilling advocacy" »

What's Up in the 8th

Pretty grim week in the 8th:  fourteen cases, and the only reversal comes in a municipal court case where the majority of the panel finds the evidence insufficient to support a conviction for obstructing justice.

Still, we learn some things; at least I do.  After wading through eighteen pages of the opinion in State v. Bridges to absorb the facts about the murder of the transvestite whose body is found after being submerged in a pond for several months, the payoff is that trying to conceal a body - like, say, submerging it in a pond for several months - constitutes abuse of a corpse.  

Continue reading "What's Up in the 8th" »

Case Update

Other than a summary reversal of a 9th Circuit case which had granted habeas relief, the Court hasn't issued any decisions so far this term.  But oral arguments have proceeded apace, including one last week about whether a state dental board could preclude non-dentists from offering teeth-whitening services.  The "dental board" consisted of practicing dentists elected by other dentists.  For those of you conversant with economic terminology, this would be found under "barriers to competition," and explains why you need to have a state license to put makeup on people.

There was also argument in one quasi-criminal case of note, Jennings v. Stephens.  Jennings had been sentenced to death, but won a new sentencing hearing when a Federal judge found for him on two of three ineffective assistance claims.  On appeal, Jennings argued that the judge should have also found for him on the third claim.  The 5th Circuit held that the judge was wrong in granting relief on the first two, and that it couldn't consider the third because Jennings hadn't cross-appealed on that issue.  Jennings now argues that he didn't need to cross-appeal, following the general rule that victorious party need not cross-appeal unless he wishes to expand the judgment below.  (For example, in a civil case you win a judgment but the trial court denies your request for attorney fees, and the other side appeals.  If you simply want to defend the judgment, you don't have to cross-appeal, but if you want to take up the fee issue, you do.)  My take is that Jennings will win, adding a bit of clarity to the law.

Down in Columbus, John Johnson is rebuffed in his latest attempt at relief from his conviction nearly half a century ago.  Johnson was convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to death in 1976, but the Ohio Supreme modified that to life imprisonment when SCOTUS declared Ohio's death penalty scheme unconstitutional.  This represents Johnson's third effort at claiming that he should get a new sentencing hearing, not just a modification of the sentence, and it proves no more successful than the previous two.  Johnson will have his next parole hearing in two years, and we'll see how that goes.

Continue reading "Case Update" »

Blogging 101

Every year, the OACDL has a Superstars Seminar, where they bring in some top lawyers from all over the country to speak on various subjects.  This year, I was invited to give a talk.  Did they want me to share my keen insights on sentencing issues?  Give the audience my tips on writing a winning appeals brief, or how to navigate the rocky shoals of an oral argument?

Not so much.  They wanted me to talk about blogging.

So, that's what I'll do here.

Continue reading "Blogging 101" »

Mistakes of law, rights and remedies

You're driving down the road.  A cop stops you because one of your brake lights isn't working.  You tell him you thought the law only required you to have one working brake light.  It requires two.  How far do you think your argument's going to go?

You're driving down the road.  A cop stops you because one of your brake lights isn't working.  It turns out that the law only requires you to have one working brake light.  Good stop or bad?

SCOTUS kicked off its CCXXVth season on Monday with oral argument in Heien v. North Carolina, on that precise issue.  And from the looks of it, ignorance of the law is not two sides of the same coin.

Continue reading "Mistakes of law, rights and remedies" »

What's Up in the 8th

I've always depended upon the kindness of strangers, and they come through in State v. Woodland.  Woodland pleads to murder, and in apparent recognition of the fact that I've got to read all this stuff, appellate counsel's only assignment of error is that the judge imposed costs in the journal entry while he waived them at the sentencing, the State concedes the error, and the panel disposes of the case in a breezy one-page opinion.  My thanks to all.

Continue reading "What's Up in the 8th" »

Case Update

The big news as SCOTUS opened its term last week is not what the Court did, but what it didn't do.  Faced with seven, count 'em, seven petitions for certiorari from circuit court decisions striking down state bans on gay marriage, the Court denied them all.  There were four dissenters from last year's decision in Windsor v. US, which declared unconstitutional the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, and it only takes the votes of four justices to grant cert, so someone read the writing on the wall.  The upshot is that by the end of the year, two-thirds of the people in this country will live in states which recognize same-sex marriage.

One of the most eagerly anticipated events in recent memory is undoubtedly my post on the oral argument in Heien v. North Carolina, which raised the issue of whether a mistake of law by a police officer renders a search invalid, and which I promised you last week.  I actually wrote it, but then screwed up on the posting.  Once I get the hang of this blogging thing, that won't happen anymore.  I hope.  Speaking of which, I'll have a post on the seminar on blogging that I did for the OACDL last week.  That'll be on Thursday.

Continue reading "Case Update" »

Road Warrior

road warrior.pngOr maybe the appropriate allusion would be to Ricky Nelson's Travelin' Man....

I got a new car on July 23.  I've put 5,000 miles on it since then.  My itinerary this week and next is one reason why:

  • Yesterday:  to Youngstown to visit three inmates at the correctional center the Feds have there
  • Today:  to Richland for an oral argument in a case in the 5th District
  • Tomorrow:  To Columbus to give a seminar session on blogging; will stop in at Richland Correctional to see a client there, who I would have seen this morning if I hadn't screwed up the fax to the institution
  • Next Tuesday:  To Columbus again, this time for an oral argument in the 10th District.  Will stop in at the Correctional Reception Center after that to see another client
  • Next Wednesday:  Back to Youngstown, and then to Trumbull Correctional to see another client.  In either order.

This is my roundabout way of telling you that I'm not going to have the post on the oral argument in the Supreme Court case on Monday about whether a police officer's mistake of law voids a search.  Today, anyway.  I might have it tomorrow, or I might talk about the seminar on blogging or how I'd change the criminal law if they put me in charge of doing that, a scenario which I frequently entertain, but which admittedly seems unlikely.  If so, I'll do the post on the Supreme Court case next week.

Continue reading "Road Warrior" »

View more posts in the Archive »

Recent Entries

  • October 22, 2014
    Chilling advocacy
    The most important lesson for a judge is that you shouldn't do things just because you can
  • October 21, 2014
    What's Up in the 8th
    Defendants go 1-14 this week.
  • October 20, 2014
    Case Update
    Not much from the top courts, so appellate decisions on hearsay, pleas and post-release controls, and sex registration
  • October 16, 2014
    Blogging 101
    Ever wanted to do a blog? Some thoughts...
  • October 15, 2014
    Mistakes of law, rights and remedies
    SCOTUS takes on whether a cop's mistake of law voids a search