According to Court News Ohio, an Adams County man’s allegations that his trial lawyers were ineffective were rejected last week by the Supreme Court of Ohio, which found the man already raised the issues on appeal or could not prove his attorneys were deficient.
The Supreme Court affirmed the Fourth District Court of Appeals’ decision to deny postconviction relief to Denny Blanton, who was convicted of kidnapping a 15-year-old girl when he was 18. Blanton argued his attorneys ineffectively represented him.
Writing for the Court majority, Justice R. Patrick DeWine stated that Ohio law limits when such challenges can be made to “preserve judicial resources while still protecting a petitioner’s ability to present additional evidence ” of ineffective assistance of counsel that was not fully assessed during an appeal.
The Court did not agree with how the Fourth District analyzed each of Blanton’s claims but agreed that Blanton did not provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate that any of the alleged errors by his trial attorneys impacted the outcome of his two trials.
Justices Sharon L. Kennedy, Patrick F. Fischer, Michael P. Donnelly, and Jennifer Brunner joined Justice DeWine’s opinion. Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justice Melody Stewart concurred in judgment only.
Teen Twice Convicted for Girl’s Rape and Beating Cellmate
In 2016, Blanton was a high school senior. He encountered a 15-year-old freshman girl who ran track and cross-country for her high school. Blanton saw the girl running along the side of a road when he pulled his truck over. The two give varying accounts of what followed. The girl accused Blanton of assaulting and raping her. Blanton said they had consensual sex, and then the girl got upset when he told her he had a girlfriend.
When questioned by Deputies, Blanton admitted to giving the girl a ride but denied having physical contact. He claimed at trial that he lied to the police because he did not want his girlfriend to find out he cheated on her. An Adams County Common Pleas Court jury convicted Blanton of rape and kidnapping, and he was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison.
While awaiting trial on the rape and kidnapping charges, Blanton was incarcerated in the Adams County jail. While there, he was among a group of inmates who arranged and engaged in fights. Video surveillance showed Blanton severely beating an inmate. The inmate testified he was told by Blanton and the other ringleaders not to report the crime. Jail guards were only able to assess the inmate’s injuries when they forced him to get out of his cell bunk. Blanton was convicted of felonious assault and other crimes and sentenced to six additional years in prison.
Blanton appealed both of his convictions to the Fourth District, which affirmed them.
Inmate Alleged Constitutional Rights Violated by Attorneys
Blanton petitioned for postconviction relief, arguing his constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel was violated. In his rape case, he argued there were six ways his trial attorneys ineffectively represented him. In his jail assault case, he raised five claims against his attorneys.
The trial court determined that all the claims were raised or could have been addressed in Blanton’s direct appeal. The court dismissed Blanton’s petition without granting a hearing, applying the doctrine of res judicata, which bars a defendant from relitigating claims that could have been or were already decided in a prior proceeding.
Blanton maintained that Ohio courts should change their practices to mirror federal courts, which allow criminal defendants to raise a claim that their attorneys were ineffective at any time.
Blanton appealed to the Fourth District, which affirmed the decisions. Blanton appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.