COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — An undetermined number of Ohio inmates who are serving additional time because firearms were involved in their crimes could see their sentences reduced in light of a recent court ruling, a top lawyer for the state prison system told The Associated Press.
The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction began a massive review of inmate case files Monday aimed at determining exactly how many prisoners’ sentences may need to be adjusted as a result of the September decision, said Jocelyn Lowe, the department’s assistant chief counsel.
Three staffers have been assigned full-time to the job, she said, with the goal of getting the first letters laying out affected inmates’ recalculated sentences to judges starting Friday. The judges will be asked to reply within 21 days.
“For the new entry, they need to let us know if they think that they need to clarify the entry in order to make sure that it complies with their intent when they sentenced the individual,” Lowe said.
The full review is expected to take through the end of the year.
The undertaking was prompted by a Sept. 15 decision by the Ohio Supreme Court in the case of inmate Charles Fraley. He successfully challenged the way the state calculated his gun-related penalties, known as gun specifications, in a manner that the court agreed erroneously added three years to his sentence.
Fraley, 64, began what had been a 13-year prison sentence at London Correctional Facility in 2011. After being convicted and paroled for earlier crimes, he was sent there on several new charges. In one case, he received a seven-year sentence plus a three-year gun penalty. In a separate case, he received five years plus a three-year gun penalty — with that whole second sentence “to be served concurrent” to the first.
Fraley contended that meant his second gun specification should overlap the first, which would bring his sentence to 10 years. The prisons department disagreed, saying the three-year gun specifications were both required to be served, bringing his sentence to 13 years.
“So prior to the Fraley decision, what DRC would do was take that second sentence and run it consecutive to the (first) gun specification, because that’s what the statute says to do,” Lowe said. “So they would serve a total of 13 years.” That practice was based on an Ohio law that says firearms specifications must be “served consecutively to and prior to the sentence that is imposed for the underlying felony.”
The Supreme Court said the state’s calculation may have been “legally correct,” but that the sentencing law is only a fallback when a judge is not specific. In Fraley’s case, the judge indicated the entire second sentence, including the three-year gun penalty, should be served concurrently to the first — and the prisons department went against that order.
“DRC’s role is not to correct a sentencing court’s errors and impose the sentence it believes the court should have imposed,” the court said.
Fraley’s recalculated 10-year sentence will be completed in 2021.