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Missing court documents ruin case, prompt changes in procedure

It seems like some people get handed more than their fair share of tragedy -- often through circumstances that seem frustratingly trivial.

That's what happened to the family of an Ohio murder victim as they were forced to watch the defendant in the case walk free on a technicality due to some misplaced paperwork.

Here's what happened:

  • Ohio has joined other states in trying to prosecute drug dealers for murder whenever one of their clients dies from an overdose -- especially if the drugs were laced with fentanyl or a few other high-powered substances.
  • An Akron man, aged 25, died of exactly that kind of overdose.
  • His dealer, already in jail on another drug charge, was notified he was being charged with involuntary manslaughter.
  • The dealer requested his right to a speedy trial and submitted the appropriate paperwork to the Clerk of Court's office and the city's prosecutor. An employee at the clerk's office signed for the documents.

After that, it's unclear what happened to the documents, but they never made it to the prosecutor's office. The case was essentially forgotten about.

As a result, the defendant asserted that the 180-day limit put on the prosecution to bring the case to trial or let it go expired -- and the manslaughter case was summarily dismissed. It cannot be brought again.

While the defendant is still serving a different prison sentence, he'll never spend a single night behind bars related to the young man's death.

According to the prosecutor, this has prompted a big change in how mail is being handled in the clerk's office. Until this point, a single employee would sign for all the mail, which would go into a communal bin. Employees would then check the bin to get mail delivered to the appropriate office.

Now, the clerk's office will only accept its own mail. Mail delivery to other offices will have to be taken directly to the correct office by mail personnel.

While there are those who are upset at the judge's decision in this case, the judge was only doing what she was legally required to do -- and the justice system worked to protect the rights of the accused.

Cases like this illustrate how important it is to be advised of your legal rights in any criminal defense case.

Source: Akron Beacon Journal, "Missing court documents prompt dismissal of overdose death case; clerk's office changing mail procedure," Stephanie Warsmith, Nov. 14, 2017

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