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Ohio Supreme Court: Constitutionality of Indeterminate Sentence Under Reagan Tokes Law May Be Challenged on Direct Appeal

by David M. Reutter

The Supreme Court of Ohio held that the constitutionality of an indeterminate sentence imposed under the Reagan Tokes Law, R.C. 2967.271, ripens at sentencing and that the law may be challenged on direct appeal. 

Eddie Maddox entered guilty pleas on September 30, 2019, to two counts of attempted burglary and one count of burglary. He was sentenced under the Reagan Tokes Law to definite terms of 12 months imprisonment each on the attempted burglary charges and an indefinite prison term of four to six years on the burglary count. All sentences were run concurrently.

Maddox appealed and argued the Reagan Tokes Law is unconstitutional. Under that law, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (“DRC”) may administratively extend a prisoner’s term beyond his or her minimum prison term or presumptive earned early-release date but not beyond his or her maximum prison term. Maddox argued that provision violate both the U.S. Constitution and Ohio Constitution on the basis of separation of powers and rights to trial by jury and due process of law.

 The Sixth District Court of Appeals held the issue was not ripe for review until a prisoner is subjected to a prison term exceeding his minimum prison term. The Sixth District, however, granted Maddox’s motion to certify a conflict with other districts, and the Ohio Supreme Court granted review.

Its review resulted in the Court holding the Reagan Tokes Law is currently ripe for review because (1) Maddox “was sentenced under the statute, (2) no further factual development is required for a court to analyze the challenge, and (3) delaying review would result in duplicative litigation, forcing Maddox and similarly situated people to endure potential violations of constitutional rights in order to challenge the law.” See Steffel v. Thompson, 415 U.S. 452 (1974) (“it is not necessary that a petitioner first expose himself to actual arrest or prosecution to be entitled to challenge a statute that he claims deters the exercise of his constitutional rights.”)

Maddox and other prisoners sentenced under the Reagan Tokes Law have had their sentences journalized, and direct appeal is the appropriate way to challenge the constitutionality of the provisions at issue, the Court explained. They should not be required to wait until “an extensive sentence results in the worst legal harm-loss of liberty that cannot be retroactively remedied.”

Additionally, other District Courts of Appeals have already considered the constitutionality of the Reagan Tokes Law and reached differing results than the Sixth district, the Court noted. The Ohio Supreme Court concluded the Reagan Tokes Law is fit for review on direct appeal of a conviction and sentence and that withholding judicial consideration of the issue will cause hardship to such a defendant.

Accordingly, the Court reversed the Sixth District’s judgement and remanded for review of the merits of Maddox’s constitutional challenge. See: State v. Maddox, 2022 Ohio LEXIS 541 (2022).  

Writers note: While Maddox prevailed on the ripeness issue, he faces an uphill battle on the constitutional challenge. The Second, Eighth, and Twelfth District Courts of Appeals have held the Reagan Tokes Law is constitutional.

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Related legal case

State v. Maddox

 

 

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