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Wilkins v. Timmerman-Cooper

December 20, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Kemp



Petitioner, a state prisoner, brings the instant petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §2254. This matter is before the Court on the instant petition, respondent's return of writ, petitioner's traverse, and the exhibits of the parties. Petitioner challenges in this habeas corpus petition, the constitutionality of the revocation of his parole based upon, inter alia, allegations of rape. Petitioner asserts in both of his claims presented for federal habeas corpus review that use of video teleconferencing at parole revocation proceedings was constitutionally impermissible. For the reasons that follow, the Magistrate Judge concludes that these claims are without merit and therefore RECOMMENDS that this action be DISMISSED.


The Ohio Tenth District Court of Appeals summarized the facts and procedural history of this case as follows:

On December 31, 1997, while on parole from a 1985 rape conviction, Wilkins was indicted by the Summit County Grand Jury for the rape of Shauneeka Mishauna Wilson. The alleged rape occurred on or about July 25, 1997. Wilson was ten years of age at the time.

Wilkins was returned to the custody of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction ("ODRC") as a parole violator. The case was tried to a jury and, on September 3, 1998, Wilkins was found guilty. Wilkins was sentenced to life in prison and found to be a sexual predator. Wilkins appealed, and on September 29, 1999, the Ninth District Court of Appeals reversed Wilkins's conviction. The Ninth District Court of Appeals found that the trial court erred in admitting testimony concerning Wilkins's 1985 rape conviction. State v. Wilkins (1999), 135 Ohio App.3d 26, 732 N.E.2d 1021. The court held that the testimony did not meet the requirements of Evid.R. 404(B) or R.C. 2945.59 and, as such, was inflammatory and prejudicial. Id., 135 Ohio App.3d at 32, 732 N.E.2d 1021. As a result, the case was remanded to the Summit County Court of Common Pleas. On September 15, 2000, the state dismissed the rape charge against Wilkins.

ODRC continued to hold Wilkins as a recommissioned parole violator at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility ("SOCF"), because he allegedly committed the following violations: (1) he had sexual relations with Wilson who was ten years old at the time of the encounter; (2) he changed his residence without permission of his parole officer; (3) he failed to report to his parole officer; (4) he had contact with a female under the age of 21 without permission of his parole officer; (5) he operated a motor vehicle in which a female was the passenger, without the permission of his parole officer; and (6) he was in the state of Louisiana without the permission of his parole officer.

On October 27, 2000, Wilkins was notified that he was subject to a parole revocation hearing to be conducted via videoconferencing. On November 14, 2000, Wilkins filed a complaint for injunctive relief and motion for temporary restraining order, asserting that under Morrissey v. Brewer (1972), 408 U.S. 471, 92 S.Ct. 2593, 33 L.Ed.2d 484, the scheduled revocation hearing by videoconferencing would violate Wilkins's right to confront witnesses under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. Appellees filed a memorandum opposing Wilkins's motion for temporary restraining order. Thereafter, the trial court conducted an oral hearing to allow both Wilkins and appellees to present their arguments. At the hearing, the trial court asked:

"THE COURT: Is there any particular reason with this case? I mean why this case? Is there a reason? Is Shauneeka-what was her age, the alleged rape victim, is she going to be a witness, and is she as I remember young, is she 12, 13, something like that?

"MR. HARDWICK: Your Honor, I believe she is 14 according to the birth date in the criminal transcript. She's currently 14.

"MR. ZETS: That's correct, Your Honor. There's no specific reason why this case as opposed to any other case. It was just a determination was made they were going to use it in this case. I don't think they should be denied the ability with it-starting with this case going forward with it or this is one of the first few it's being used.

"The whole idea in the plaintiff's argument is based upon protecting identity of witnesses, that's not an issue in this case. Because we are not talking about not allowing the plaintiff to confront those witnesses, it's the method by which they confront those witnesses. So the fact that the victim in this case will be in Akron, Ohio, by television-granted she is tender age, I believe she has-she might be somewhat mentally deficient or mentally challenged, in that respect I don't think that plays a huge role in determining whether or not they go to Lucasville or people in Lucasville go to Akron. It's just technology the department would like to use under Morrissey v. Brewer."

On November 20, 2000, appellees conducted the parole revocation hearing. Wilkins, his counsel, and the hearing officer were present at SOCF. The parole officer and the state's witnesses were present and testified via videoconferencing technology from Akron, Ohio. On December 5, 2000, the trial court denied Wilkins's motion for a temporary restraining order. On December 8, 2000, the Parole Board determined that Wilkins had violated his parole.

On December 15, 2000, Wilkins filed an amended complaint for injunctive relief alleging that the use of the videoconferencing technology during his parole revocation hearing deprived him of the right to confront witnesses under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. Appellees responded with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Civ.R. 12(B)(6). On March 7, 2001, the trial court granted appellees' motion to dismiss, stating that "[t]hrough the use of video-conferencing equipment, plaintiff was able to view and question the witnesses, despite his not being physically present in the same room. Also, the due-process and confrontation rights in a parole-revocation hearing do not rise to the level of those in a trial proceeding."

Wilkins appealed to this court. In Wilkins v. Wilkinson (Jan. 15, 2002), Franklin App. No. 01AP-468, 2002 WL 47051, this court reversed, holding that Wilkins had alleged sufficient facts to state a constitutional claim against appellees. Specifically, this court noted that Wilkins alleged that the video camera was positioned in such a way as to prevent him and his counsel from making eye contact with the witnesses, and that the video picture froze on several occasions, thereby preventing Wilkins and the hearing officer from observing the demeanor of the witnesses. These allegations were sufficient to allow Wilkins's claim to survive a Civ.R. 12(B)(6) motion. However, this court did not address whether the use of videoconferencing technology in a parole revocation hearing would satisfy the Confrontation Clause, when the equipment and procedure utilized is functionally equivalent to that accorded live, in-person testimony.

On remand to the trial court, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The parties attached as exhibits to the motions, among other things, videotapes of the parole revocation proceedings, the Release Violation Hearing Summary prepared by Hearing Officer Trayce Thalheimer, Thalheimer's affidavit, and the deposition transcripts of Chief Hearing Officer Cynthia Mausser and Thalheimer. The Release Violation Hearing Summary provided:

"For the panel[']s information this hearing was held at SOCF where the inmate, HO, public defender and public defender[']s witness were present. The APA, and their witness' [sic] were at the Akron office. This hearing was held via teleconference. This was against the wishes of the PD and a good deal of time was used discussing the objection of the hearing. It was determined in court that the hearing could take place. The PD wanted all parties to be aware that she objected to the way the proceedings were taking place and the fact that the victim would not be present face to face with the subj. in the room during testimony. The decision to hold the hearing this way was agreed to with the APA and the Chief Hearing officer. This was due to the mental and emotional status of the victim."

The trial court granted appellees' motion for summary judgment, finding that: (1) appellees had shown good cause for using the videoconferencing technology; (2) the utilization of videoconferencing technology sufficiently permitted Wilkins and his counsel to observe and confront the witnesses; and (3) in any event, Wilkins admitted facts establishing most of the alleged parole violations. Wilkins appealed, assigning as error the following:


In violation of Randolph Wilkins['s] right to due process of law, the trial court erred in finding as a matter of law, that Respondents showed good cause for holding the hearing by video conference due to the age and mental condition of one witness and did not require any showing of cause for the other three witnesses who testified by videoconference.


The trial court erred in violation of Mr. Wilkins's right to due process of law by finding that this videoconference was a sufficient approximation of a face-to-face encounter and that Dr. Stephen Acker's report was insufficient to bar summary judgment for Respondents.


In violation of Randolph Wilkins['s] right to due process of law, the trial court erred in finding that Mr. Wilkins's admissions as to non-criminal, technical parole violations obviated any problems with confrontation ...

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