Constitutional Law

Judge OK'd warrant to search public defender’s office over evidence dispute in theft case

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A misdemeanor retail theft case in Ohio ended earlier this month when the defendant took a plea and was sentenced to the 64 days he had already served awaiting trial.

But the Hamilton County case still reverberates with both the prosecution and the defense, due to an evidence dispute that led to a judge approving a warrant to search the public defender’s office, reports the Cincinnati Enquirer.

At issue was a store security video. The assistant public defender got a copy, but police didn’t ask for it at the time of the theft and the store soon erased it. When the Cincinnati prosecutor’s office asked the public defender’s office for a copy, the request was denied.

“Rules only require the defense to turn over evidence it intends to introduce at trial,” law professor David Singleton of Northern Kentucky University told the Enquirer. “If you don’t plan on using something–as you shouldn’t with material that incriminates your client–then there is no duty to turn it over. People may not like it, but those are the rules of our adversarial system.”

However, a municipal court judge granted a search warrant sought by city prosecutor Charlie Rubenstein. “You can’t take evidence and hide it,” he told the newspaper.

The evidence dispute ended with a guilty plea on May 7 by Terrance Jones, 43, who had been accused of stuffing $200 worth of candy into his pockets. The search warrant at that point hadn’t been executed and Rubenstein tore it up. He insists it was proper, the Enquirer reports.

However, Singleton and public defender Ray Faller said the search warrant potentially could have a chilling effect in other cases.

“Defense attorneys can’t do their jobs,” said Singleton, “unless they are able to freely investigate the case without concern that they may have to later throw their client under the bus.”

Updated at 12:01 p.m. to fix a typo.

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