What Happened on Remand: No Relief for Demetrius Jackson. State v. Jackson.
Demetrius Jackson was arrested for raping 14-year-old C.H. While Jackson was in the county jail, he was interviewed by a Cuyahoga County Division of Children and Family Services social worker, who did not give Jackson the Miranda warnings. Jackson told the social worker that he had had consensual oral sex with C.H., and that he thought she was at least 21 years old.
At a bench trial, over Jackson’s objection, the social worker was allowed to testify as to Jackson’s statements from the jail interview. Jackson was convicted of two counts of rape and related offenses, and sentenced to eleven years in prison.
Court of Appeals Decision
In a split decision, the Eighth District Court of Appeals reversed Jackson’s conviction. The majority held that the social worker had violated Jackson’s Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights by failing to give him the Miranda warnings and by conducting the interrogation outside the presence of his lawyer. The dissenting judge would find that Jackson’s constitutional rights were not violated because the social worker was not acting as an agent of law enforcement in this situation.
Supreme Court of Ohio Reverses and Remands
In a 6-1 decision handed down on June 7, 2018, in which Justice Kennedy concurred in judgment only and Justice DeGenaro dissented, the Supreme Court of Ohio reversed the Eighth District, holding that a social worker’s statutory duty to cooperate and share information with law enforcement with regard to a child abuse investigation does not, without more, make the social worker an agent of law enforcement for Fifth and Sixth Amendment purposes, and thus no Miranda warnings had to be given in this situation. The case was returned to the Court of Appeals to decide the remaining assignments of error which the appeals court had found moot in light of its ruling.
There were two unresolved assignments of error to decide on remand. The first was that Jackson’s Sixth Amendment Confrontation rights were violated when the state introduced an alleged hearsay statement through a testifying police officer. The second was that Jackson’s convictions were against the manifest weight of the evidence. In a decision authored by Judge Eileen A. Gallagher, the appeals court rejected both assignments of error and upheld the conviction and sentence. Judge Sean C. Gallagher concurred in judgment only. Judge Mary Boyle also concurred in judgment only, and concurred in Judge Sean Gallagher’s separate opinion.
A Cleveland police officer was allowed to testify that when he responded to the scene, C.H. told him she had been raped. Jackson argued that was impermissible hearsay. The lead opinion rejected that argument, finding the statement met the three necessary requirements for admissibility as non-hearsay for the purpose of explaining the next step in a police investigation. The lead opinion then went on to find that even if the statement was inadmissible, its admission here was harmless error for two reasons. The trial judge, in this bench trial, stated the court would not consider the statement as evidence to establish that C.H. was raped. And C.H. testified at trial herself, and testified that she was raped, making the officer’s testimony cumulative, and its admission harmless.
Judge Sean Gallagher would find the officer’s testimony was inadmissible hearsay, offered for the truth of the matter asserted rather than to explain police conduct. But he agreed with the lead opinion in its reasoning and conclusion that any error in its admission was harmless here. Judge Boyle agreed with this separate opinion.
Jackson challenged the credibility of C.H.’s account of the incident, and the fact that the investigating officers failed to collect C.H.’s underwear for examination. The trial judge as factfinder in this bench trial found C.H.’s testimony to be credible, and Jackson’s not, particularly in light of the fact that the 14 year old victim fled from the scene after her encounter with Jackson. As in any weight-of-the evidence challenge, the credibility of witnesses is primarily for the trier of fact to assess. The appeals court did not find the judgment to be against the manifest weight of the evidence in this case. On this assignment of error, the judges were unanimous.
Conviction and sentence upheld.