The Ohio Parole Board has an unwritten policy or practice of refusing to allow people who are under parole consideration to have access to statements submitted to the parole board by victims or victims’ representatives (“victims’ statements”). Despite statutory authority giving the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction discretion to release such statements, the Department and the Parole Board uniformly keep them strictly secret. In many cases, these statements contain mistaken or false information that the Board might then rely on in denying parole. Without the opportunity to read the statements or be informed or their contents, people under consideration for parole have no meaningful opportunity to respond to or dispute statements that may doom their parole application.
Our clients were both impacted by this policy. Shawn Brust has served over 23 years of a 15 year-to-life sentence, and was found suitable for parole at an initial stage of the process in 2020, by a unanimous vote. After receipt of victims’ statements and a hearing, a majority of the parole board reversed itself and voted to deny him parole. Melissa Grasa has served over 25 years of a 20 year-to-life sentence. Similarly to Mr. Brust, she was initially found suitable, but the Board reversed itself and ultimately denied her parole. In Ms. Grasa’s case, the victim’s family conducted a petition opposition campaign and submitted unknown information to the board.
The Ohio Supreme Court has held that although parole is discretionary and no one is entitled to it, having set up a parole system, the state has created a “minimal due process expectation,” by which it is obligated to provide “meaningful consideration” for parole. The Board’s policy of denying access to victim statements precludes meaningful consideration because it prevents individuals seeking parole from knowing about, rebutting, or responding to information that is being considered by the Board.
On May 13, 2021 we filed this case in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas on behalf of Plaintiffs Shawn Brust and Melissa Grasa, seeking a declaratory judgment finding the Parole Board’s procedure unlawful. Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss on June 16, we opposed on June 30, and they filed their Reply on July 9. On July 12 we filed a Sur-Reply, correcting a factual inaccuracy in Defendants’ Reply brief regarding the contents of Plaintiff Grasa’s parole decision.