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Published: 8/27/2012

Method for warrants at issue

Municipal Court seeks review after lawyer questions legality

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A legal question surrounding the arrest of a man suspected in the November robbery and beating death of a Toledo taxi driver has led to scrutiny of the way some arrest warrants are filed at Toledo Municipal Court.

Clerk of Courts Vallie Bowman-English said Friday she has asked the city law department to review procedures now in place in municipal court after a defense attorney argued in Lucas County Common Pleas Court that the clerk's office has issued arrest warrants improperly.

"Basically the procedure that is in place has been in place since the beginning of municipal court," Ms. Bowman-English said, noting that she was first made aware of a potential problem when attorney Dave Klucas subpoenaed one of her deputy clerks. "It was something I didn't know was an issue."

Mr. Klucas has argued to Common Pleas Court Judge James Jensen that the warrant initially used to arrest Brandon Hoffman was invalid and therefore the evidence collected during his arrest should be excluded.

Specifically, Mr. Klucas argued that no one found any probable cause of a crime before an unrelated misdemeanor warrant was issued.

Hoffman, 29, of 333 Chapin St. is charged with aggravated murder and aggravated robbery in the death of Scott Holzhauer, 47, who was found dead Nov. 26 in his home at 842 Lorain St. A crowbar was embedded in the victim's skull.

Mr. Klucas said Hoffman became a suspect in the homicide but was arrested Nov. 27 because of misdemeanor warrants previously filed in an unrelated theft case. Because those warrants had not been reviewed by a "detached and disinterested party for probable cause," they were invalid, Mr. Klucas argued.

After considering several written memorandums and witness testimony at two hearings -- including one held Friday -- Judge Jensen is expected to rule on the motion this week.

If his ruling is in favor of the defense, it could affect thousands of arrest warrants issued over the years.

According to the legal definition, probable cause exists "where the facts and circumstances would warrant a person of reasonable caution to believe that an offense was or is being committed."

In Ohio, criminal rules dictate that a warrant may be issued if it appears "from the complaint, or from an affidavit or affidavits filed with the complaint, that there is probable cause to believe that an offense has been committed and that the defendant committed it."

Assistant County Prosecutor Frank Spryszak countered the defense argument during the hearing Friday, saying that case law from the 6th District Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction in Lucas County, states the misdemeanor warrants were obtained appropriately.

Even if the court rules the warrants were invalid, he said, the officers involved were acting "on good faith" when executing the warrants.

Mr. Spryszak conceded that the policy in place at the clerk's office is a procedural violation, but argued that Toledo police should not be held accountable for mistakes made in the clerk's office.

During the hearings, at least two employees of the clerk's office testified that they were not familiar with the probable-cause requirement until it was brought up as part of Mr. Klucas' motion. They both added that they did not consider it their job to review probable cause.

Ms. Bowman-English said Friday that the law department is considering who should be responsible for reviewing probable cause when police seek out warrants -- whether it be deputy clerks, magistrates, or other court personnel. Once that is decided, she said, a new policy will be written and implemented in municipal court.

"It's just a matter of, who do you want to make this [probable-cause] determination? And once that decision is made, then a procedure will be put in place," Ms. Bowman-English said.

She added that if deputy clerks are to make determinations of probable cause, the approximately 50 deputy clerks working in the office's criminal and traffic division will be trained on any new policies put in place.

Contact Erica Blake at: eblake@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.



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