The Mechanics of Rayshawn Johnson’s Case Explained

You’ll probably only care about this if you’re from Cincinnati (or are a fan of seeing habeas in action). On Tuesday, Jan 10, 2012, a Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas judge “re-sentenced” Rayshawn Johnson to death. A lot of Cincinnati seemed to delight in this – proof that most people do view justice as “eye-for-an-eye.” Anyhow, people keep wondering why he was re-sentenced in the first place. I figured someone out there should explain this…and who better to do so than a habeas fan? So, here’s the explanation taken from the Sixth Circuit’s habeas grant:

In May 1998, a jury convicted Johnson on all counts and recommended the death penalty. The trial judge accepted the recommendation and sentenced Johnson to death.

Johnson appealed his conviction to the Ohio Supreme Court, arguing (among other things) that misconduct by the judge and the prosecutor denied him a fair trial and that his counsel conducted a constitutionally ineffective penalty-phase investigation. See State v. Johnson, 88 Ohio St.3d 95, 723 N.E.2d 1054, 1072-73, 1076 (Ohio 2000), cert. denied, 531 U.S. 889, 121 S.Ct. 212, 148 L.Ed.2d 149 (2000). The court rejected each claim and independently determined that Johnson’s death penalty was appropriate. Id. at 1077-78. In state post-conviction proceedings, Johnson raised a claim of judicial bias and renewed his ineffective-assistance claim, submitting additional evidence and affidavits. State v. Johnson, No. C-000090, 2000 WL 1760225, at *3-9, *11 (Ohio Ct.App. Dec.1, 2000). The Ohio Court of Appeals denied each claim, id., and the Ohio Supreme Court denied review, 91 Ohio St.3d 1481, 744 N.E.2d 1194 (Ohio 2001).

Johnson petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus. The district court granted relief on Johnson’s ineffective-assistance claim but denied his other claims. When the warden appealed the district court’s grant of the writ, Johnson (after receiving a certificate of appealability) cross-appealed the denial of his judicial-misconduct, judicial-bias and prosecutorial-misconduct claims as well as the denial of his motion to amend the petition.

The Sixth Circuit upheld that habeas grant and so Rayshawn Johnson got a second shot at sentencing. To review: Johnson exhausted his direct appeals in the state courts then petitioned for habeas in the state courts. Receiving no relief, Johnson brought a § 2254 petition in federal district court.

That’s how habeas works, folks. That’s Rayshawn Johnson’s case explained in a nutshell.

-Zachary Cloud

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