Rhonda Head v. Ohio Parole Board
Case Dates:Friday, 30 March, 2018 - ongoing
The Ohio Parole Board (“OPB”) is a 12-member panel, appointed by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, with a statutory duty to conduct release consideration for all parole-eligible inmates. Although Ohio Administrative Code § 5120:1-1-07 sets out a list of mandatory factors for OPB to weigh in its decisions, OPB’s discretion in considering those factors is extremely broad. OPB is not required to list any specific evidence or factors that led to its determination to grant or deny release to any applicant.
Federal courts reviewing the Ohio parole system have held that applicants have no recognized “liberty interest” to support a federal constitutional challenge to OPB’s policies in federal court. Ohio state courts, meanwhile, have placed some limitation on OPB’s discretion, holding that OPB is required to afford “meaningful consideration” to each inmate’s application.
Plaintiff Rhonda Head alleges that as a matter of unwritten policy, OPB: (1) denies all first- parole applications from inmates convicted of a violent offense, regardless of individual circumstances; (2) where multiple defendants were convicted in connection with the same offense, denies parole to the first individual co-defendant who appears before OPB, in order to preserve him or her as a potential informant against the others; and (3) frequently fails to consider material information about an applicant’s conduct while incarcerated, including programs participated in, and other rehabilitation efforts.
OPB’s unwritten policies violate Ohio law which requires OPB to afford “meaningful consideration” to each inmate’s parole application.
On March 30, 2018 the Ohio Justice and Policy Center and the law firm Thompson Hine filed a complaint against OPB in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas challenging these policies. The plaintiff, Rhonda Head, was sentenced to 15 years to life on charges of murder and kidnapping. Though Ms. Head presented a strong case for parole on her first application in 2016—including two job offers and a stable residence waiting for her, numerous recommendation letters, a strong record of completion and even founding numerous rehabilitative programs while in prison, and a positive evaluation by a psychologist—her application was denied. The lawsuit seeks a declaration from the court that OPB’s unwritten policies violate its obligation to provide “meaningful consideration” to applicants. Courts cannot order OPB to release inmates, but can find that OPB’s decision was based on impermissible considerations and order reconsideration.
On May 11 Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss; on June 8 Plaintiff filed a Memorandum in Opposition; and on June 20 Defendant filed its Reply. We await a ruling on the motion.
On August 17 Plaintiff filed her Initial Joint Disclosure of Witnesses and First Requests for Production of Documents. On August 21 Defendant filed a Motion to Stay Discovery pending a ruling on its Motion to Dismiss. On September 4 Plaintiff filed her Memorandum in Opposition.
On October 30, 2018, attorneys for the ACLU of Ohio entered the case as co-counsel for the Plaintiff.
In December parties agreed to extend all deadlines in the case, and have since proceeded with discovery. At her deposition, Parole Board Chair Trayce Thalheimer indicated Ms. Head may be successful if she requests a reconsideration of her parole denial. On June 11, 2019 we requested a reconsideration hearing, and on June 14 it was granted. A parole suitability hearing will be held in August. The parties agreed to suspend all case proceedings and deadlines in the meantime.