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Published: Tuesday, 8/28/2012

Judge allows arrest to stand in warrant case

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Public defender James MacHarg, left, stands beside Brandon Hoffman, 28, right, during his arraignment in the beating death of Scott Holzhauer, 47. Public defender James MacHarg, left, stands beside Brandon Hoffman, 28, right, during his arraignment in the beating death of Scott Holzhauer, 47.
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Although agreeing that the long-standing practice of issuing arrest warrants in Toledo Municipal Court violates state law and the U.S. Constitution, a Lucas County Common Pleas judge has ruled that the arrest of Brandon Hoffman was done in good faith, and so evidence tying him to the beating death of a Toledo taxi driver is admissible at his trial.

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.

Judge James Jensen issued a 14-page opinion Monday denying Hoffman's motion to suppress evidence.

The judge ruled that while he concedes that municipal court has issued "potentially thousands" of illegal arrest warrants, an earlier court ruling created "binding judicial precedent."

"This court believes that the Toledo Municipal Court's general procedure for swearing in affidavits violates the United States and Ohio Constitutions as well as the Rules of Criminal Procedure," the opinion stated.

"Nevertheless, the Sixth District Court of Appeals, has squarely addressed this issue and determined that complaints identical in form and content to the arrest warrants described herein are sufficient to meet the requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment and [state law]."

Attorney Dave Klucas argued in written memorandums and during hearings that although Hoffman was a suspect in the homicide, he was initially arrested on misdemeanor warrants.

Those warrants, Mr. Klucas argued, were invalid because no one in the clerk's office made a determination of probable cause before they were issued.

And if the warrants are invalid, then anything seized by police during Hoffman's arrest -- including the victim's gun and cell phone found near Hoffman when he was arrested -- should be excluded by the court as evidence.

Assistant Prosecutor Frank Spryszak countered that the 6th District Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction in Lucas County, has already decided that the misdemeanor warrants were obtained appropriately and it was based on this belief that Toledo officers enacted the arrest.

Mr. Spryszak further argued that Toledo police should not be held accountable for violations in the clerk's office.

The judge noted in his ruling that the precedent case already decided in the appellate court was on-point with the facts presented in Hoffman's case and so he was bound by the decision.

"Here, there is strong evidence that the Toledo Municipal Court as been acting as a rubber stamp to the Toledo police for … years," the opinion stated. "Nonetheless, the Toledo Police Department was acting under the impress that such practice was constitutional."

The judge concluded the case highlighted "a systemic deficiency in the general procedure implemented by the Clerk of the Toledo Municipal Court in swearing in affidavits for the issuance of arrest warrants."

However, he ruled that "the officers' conduct was not wrongful in that the police acted in strict compliance with binding precedent."

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."

The law states that such determination can be made by a judge, magistrate, clerk of court, officer of the court designated by the judge.

In his arguments, Mr. Klucas said there was a difference between the case law established by the appellate court and Hoffman's stance, namely that previous cases did not specifically address the issue of probable cause determination.

He declined to comment Monday on the opinion, noting that the case was still pending. He noted although the case is not at the point in the procedure where the decision could be appealed, it would likely be considered in the future.

"Right now it's too early," he said. "It is certainly something that would be contemplated at the right time."

Toledo Municipal Court Clerk Vallie Bowman-English said on Monday that she reviewed precedent cases as soon as the issue arose and noted that the appellate court approved the method used.

She added that to ensure confidence in the judicial system, she is reviewing the issue and will soon change procedure.

"We're definitely doing something, we're going to be proactive. We're going to take care of this," she said.

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



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