Cuyahoga County

Ohio v. Clark Supreme Court Case

   

"Watching our office’s participation in this historic case, it was inspiring to see not only the amount of team effort that went into our advocate’s preparation and presentation but also the amount of team support there to cheer him on.  The mental images I have from that experience are memories I will carry with me forever." 

                  - Charlie Hannan, Chief, General Civil Unit

On March 1, 2015, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office argued the landmark case of Ohio v. Clark before the Supreme Court of the United States, the office's first appearance before the court in almost 50 years. The court handed down a unanimous opinion that statements made to by an abused child to his teacher were admissible as evidence in trial.

 

Facts of the Case

 

 Click here to read the Court's opinion

 "The United States Supreme Court is without a doubt the biggest stage there is. Sitting in the Main Courtroom the next day to watch APA Meyer argue a case that I had helped him prepare for is something that most appellate attorneys never get to experience; and to this day it remains one of the highlights of my career."
- Frank Zeleznikar, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney

Defendant Darius Clark regularly sent his girlfriend hundreds of miles away to engage in prostitution and agreed to care for her two young children while she was out of town.

During one such trip in March 2010, teachers discovered red marks on her 3-year-old son, and the boy identified Clark as his abuser. After the teacher reported the abuse, additional severe abuse of both children was discovered by social workers. 

Clark was subsequently tried on multiple counts related to the abuse of both children. At trial, the State introduced the boy's statements to his teachers as evidence of Clark’s guilt.  A jury convicted Clark on all but one count, but because the boy did not testify personally, the state appellate court and Ohio Supreme Court reversed the conviction on the grounds that Clark has been unable to "confront... the witnesses against him" as provided for in the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The United States Supreme Court upheld Clark's conviction, stating that the introduction of the statements at trial did not violate the Confrontation Clause. The court ruled that because the "statements were not made with the primary purpose of creating evidence for Clark’s prosecution" and had "occurred in the context of an ongoing emergency involving suspected child abuse," they were admissible. Mandatory reporting obligations had not converted the concerned teacher into a law enforcement officer gathering evidence for prosecution that would be barred by the Confrontation Clause.

Presenting the Case

Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Matthew Meyer brought more than a powerful argument to the Supreme Court of the United States on the morning of Monday, March 2, 2015. He had a cheering section – albeit a silent one in the court’s ornate chambers -- too.

The day before, more than 50 of his colleagues from the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office had ridden a bus from Cleveland in a snowstorm to watch history being made: Clark v. Ohio gave the high court a chance to refine its interpretation of the Confrontation Clause. And the argument also marked the first time since 1967’s landmark Terry v. Ohio arguments that our office had argued a case of this magnitude in front of the Supreme Court.

Many of those colleagues had been involved in the case during its trip through the judicial system. They had tried and convicted Darius Clark for abusing his two tiny victims. They had handled post-conviction appeals at the 8th District Court of Appeals and the Ohio Supreme Court. They had petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case and to review a sharply divided Ohio Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the verdict on grounds that frankly worried child welfare advocates and prosecutors around the country.

   
Our prosecutors wanted not only to see the final stages of a vital legal process, they wanted to stand up for the children who had been harmed by Clark and for other victims whose cases would be harder to prove unless the State of Ohio prevailed. So did another passenger on the bus: Cleveland Police Detective Jodi Remington, who had investigated the case and arrested Clark in the first place.

“What happened in this case is something our CFS Unit Assistant Prosecutors deal with every day in our professional lives – children being victims of abuse at the hands of adults who they trust. In too many of these cases, because they are young children, their voices are not heard,” said Michelle Myers, supervisor of CCPO’s Children and Family Services Unit. “It is rare that an issue of child protection makes it before the Ohio Supreme Court, let alone the U.S. Supreme Court. This ordinary case from Cuyahoga County, Ohio, impacted the rest of the nation.”

When the bus pulled in late Sunday afternoon, attorneys from the Appeals Unit went right to work. They crowded into a conference room for a last prep session with APA Meyer and with their unit chief, Allan Regas. APA Regas had been with Meyer in Washington for a week, helping him get ready for the argument. But with stakes so high, the mental training continued well into the evening.

“We ran through every conceivable question that the justices could possibly ask him,” said Appeals Unit APA Frank Zeleznikar. “By the end of the night, it was clear that he could not have been any more ready for the argument the next day.”

Other APAs on the trip ranged from some of the office’s most senior attorneys to young prosecutors from the Juvenile Justice and General Felony units. Prosecutor McGinty wanted all of them to take in the majesty of the Supreme Court and to understand the potential impact their work has every day.

“Try every case likes it’s going to the Supreme Court,” he said. “Because it just might. Your case, too, could end up here someday.”

By the time the justices had finished hearing Clark v. Ohio late Monday morning, the grandeur of the occasion was clear to all.

“I was thrilled to be able to attend the oral arguments in the Darius Clark case,” sad Civil Division APA Kelli Perk. “As an attorney, the United States Supreme Court is the court we look to for clarity on constitutional issues. It is the court we study and read about in law school. Just seeing it and seeing the justices was an experience I’ll never forget.”

Added Criminal Division APA Adam Chaloupka, “Being present while our Office argued a case before the Supreme Court of United States was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Watching the lawyers and Justices argue was enlightening and unlike anything I imagined it would be.”
After the arguments at the high court on Monday, the Prosecutor’s Office delegation met with Kellie Adesina, legislative director Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, who briefed them on issues coming before the 114th Congress.

On Tuesday before another long ride back to the Cleveland, they discussed the Confrontation Clause with Alan B. Morrison, the Lerner Family Associate Dean for Public Interest and Public Service Law at the George Washington University Law School.

“This was the best CLE (Continuing Legal Education) we’ve ever put on,” said Prosecutor McGinty. “It was an experience no one will ever forget.”

Preparing the Case

Although one attorney represented this office in arguments before the United States Supreme Court, this case was a team effort from the very beginning. Within our own office, many people fought for the victims in this case from the attorneys representing the Department Child and Family Services, to the first prosecution in Common Pleas Court in 2010 through final resolution in the United States Supreme Court.

From the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office, Matt Meyer argued the case before the United States Supreme Court while Katie Mullin drafted and authored the briefing in the case. In addition, the following prosecutors worked on the initial prosecution, the state appeals, and the preparation for the case before the Ohio Supreme Court, to include: Saleh Awadallah; Yvonne Billingsley; Anna Faraglia; Jennifer Driscoll; Eric Foster; Kristin Karkutt; Mark Mahoney; Mary McGrath; Anthony Miranda; Michelle Myers; Deborah Naiman; T. Allan Regas; Christopher Schroeder; Diane Smilanick; Amy Venesile; and Frank Zeleznikar.

"Clark was a collaborative effort, from Cleveland Police detectives, to the trial prosecutors, those who argued at the Eighth District and Supreme Court of Ohio, and to Matt Meyer and Allan Regas who argued in the Supreme Court. The trip, and the work involved to organize the travel and tours, communicated to us that our contribution mattered and that we were joined in support of the case."

                                                                - Mary McGrath, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney

But the prosecutors were not alone in this matter. Day Care Teachers the victim’s day care teachers Ramona Whitley and Debra Jones showed compassion and courage in detecting and reporting the abuse they witnessed. And the Cuyahoga County Children & Family Services Social Workers Elizabeth Grizer and Howard Little were primary in securing the immediate safety of the victims along with Cleveland Police Detectives Jodi Remington and Detective Michael Kovach.

Neither was our office alone in preparing this case before the United States Supreme Court. Assistant to the Solicitor General Ilana Eisenstein worked diligently and brought significant talent to the oral argument. And before the argument, the attorneys throughout Ohio worked to ensure that the case would be heard, briefed, and that young victims would have a voice in court to confront their abusers.

Assistance was provided by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine; Eric Murphy, Ohio Attorney General’s Office; Samuel Peterson, Ohio Attorney General’s Office; Carol Hamilton-O’Brien, Delaware County Prosecutor; Douglas Dumolt, Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office; Alexandra Schimmer, The Ohio State University, Office of Legal Affairs; and Jon Oebkar, Tucker Ellis.

Outside Ohio, this case garnered national attention. Forty-three states, seven professional organizations, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Solicitor General filed amicus briefs with the court in support of Ohio's case:

Impact of the Case

In September 2015, members of the office presented on the case and its ramifications to the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association. In only the first six months after the decision, at least three cases have cited the Supreme Court's decision. As the originators of this case, our office will be called on to file our own amicus briefs for years.

 
 

Read the OPAA presentation here

Register for the 3/4/16 Ohio v. Clark Conference

 Law Review Articles

 Confrontation After Ohio v. Clark
       - Prof. Anne R. Traum, Nevada Bar Association

The Confrontation Clause After Ohio v. Clark: The Path to Reinvigorating Evidenced-Based Prosecution in Intimate Partner Violence Cases
     - A. Ann Ratnayake, George Washington Law Review