COLUMBUS — A former Toledo man serving life without parole for a 2011 robbery-murder urged the Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday to throw out his conviction because it was based on evidence gathered during execution of an admittedly faulty arrest warrant.
While executing that warrant on unrelated misdemeanor theft charges, police found a .45-caliber handgun and a cell phone that tied Brandon Lee Hoffman, 30, to the Nov. 26, 2011, murder of taxicab driver Scott Holzhauer.
The court did not issue an immediate ruling.
Lucas County Common Pleas Court and the Toledo-based 6th District Court of Appeals have agreed that the original warrant was constitutionally deficient because a “neutral magistrate” had not certified that sufficient evidence existed to justify the misdemeanor arrest.
But the courts agreed that the defective warrant wasn’t the fault of Toledo police, who acted in good faith when they later executed a warrant in the computer database once Hoffman became a murder suspect.
Toledo Municipal Court has since changed its policies and now makes advance determinations as to probable cause. But some justices questioned whether the issue is broader than one case.
Hoffman’s Toledo attorney, David Klucas, argued in the appeal that the court’s practice of rubber-stamping police warrant requests had gone on for 17 years.
Justice Judith Lanzinger, of Toledo, noted other warrants approved by the court are still in the system.
“What do we do about cases that will come up?” she asked. “Somebody’s pulled over to the side of the road. A police officer checks the computer. There are four warrants for an arrest which may be invalid. What happens in a situation like that? I’m concerned about the 17-year backlog for this jurisdiction.”
The state and Lucas County maintain that if warrants were issued under the accepted practice at the time, police using them in the future would still be acting in good faith.
But Mr. Klucas argued that the court cannot uphold a murder conviction based on evidence from a constitutionally deficient warrant.
Police officers “know that there has to be a real probable-cause determination, just like when they get a search warrant,” he said. “It was a rubber-stamp process.”
Lucas County Assistant Prosecutor Evy Jarrett said the case against Hoffman did not hinge entirely on the objects found when police executed the theft-arrest warrant. Hoffman, who lived across the street from the victim, had already come to the attention of police.
The cell phone that proved to be the murder victim’s was in plain view inside Hoffman’s home when police searched there, Ms. Jarrett said. Police knew they were looking for the phone and had someone call the victim’s number, and the phone rang.
Mr. Holzhauer was bludgeoned with a crowbar. The murder’s brutality was cited by then-Common Pleas Judge James Jensen when he sentenced Hoffman to life without parole.
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