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Coles v. Warden, Correctional Institution

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

August 13, 2019

William Coles, Petitioner,

          James L. Graham Judge



         Petitioner has filed a pro se petition invoking 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. 1.) This case has been referred to the Undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C § 636(b) and Columbus' General Order 14-1 regarding assignments and references to United States Magistrate Judges. This matter is before the Court for initial review required by 28 U.S.C. § 2243, which provides that a court that receives an application for a writ of habeas corpus must award a writ or order a response to the application “unless it appears from the application that the applicant or person detained is not entitled thereto.” For the following reasons, it plainly appears that Petitioner is not entitled to habeas relief. Accordingly, the Magistrate Judge RECOMMENDS that the petition be DENIED and that this action be DISMISSED. The Magistrate Judge further DENIES Petitioner's motion to stay (Doc. 2), and DENIES Petitioner's motion for the appointment of counsel (Doc. 3.)

         Background [1]

         According to the petition and its exhibits, in 1986, Petitioner was convicted of two counts of rape pursuant to a guilty plea entered in the Court of Common Pleas for Franklin County, Ohio. (Doc. 1-3, at PAGEID # 18.) He was sentenced to two concurrent prison terms of eight to 25 years. (Id.) Petitioner did not file an appeal. (Doc. 1, at PAGEID # 2.)

         On November 29, 2001, the state trial court conducted a hearing to determine if Petitioner was required to register as a sex offender pursuant to Ohio's sex offender-registration statute that was in effect at that time- “Megan's Law.” (Doc. 1-3, at PAGEID # 34.) Megan's Law identified three categories of sexual offenders: sexually oriented offenders, habitual sex offenders, and sexual predators. The state trial court concluded that Petitioner was a sexual predator pursuant to that statutory scheme and that he was required to register as such. (Id.) Petitioner was released from incarceration on September 7, 2005. (Id. at PAGEID # 21.)

         In 2008, Ohio reorganized its sexual-offender registration scheme and did away with the categories described above in favor of “Tiers” (Tier I, Tiers II, and Tier III) to which offenders were assigned on the basis of their offenses of conviction and their criminal history. (Id.) Petitioner was reclassified as a Tier III offender under that new scheme. (Id.) On August 13, 2008, Petitioner filed a petition contesting his reclassification as a Tier III offender. (Id.)

         While his petition contesting his reclassification was pending in the state trial court, Petitioner filed a habeas petition in this court under § 2254, alleging that his Constitutional rights were violated because: reformatory inmates were housed with penitentiary inmates; the state had no jurisdiction to detain him; the 1986 plea agreement had been breached; Petitioner had served 24 years already; the adult parole authorities denied Petitioner counsel during parole proceedings; Petitioner's parole conditions were prohibiting him from becoming a productive member of society; the adult parole authority had engaged in retaliatory practices; and that being labeled a sexual predator constituted cruel and unusual punishment. (Coles v. State of Ohio, 2:09-cv-1176, Doc. 1.) Petitioner did not, however, contest his reclassification as a Tier III offender. In January of 2010, this Court concluded that Petitioner's conviction-related claims were time-barred, that Petitioner had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies before bringing his parole-related claims, and that Petitioner's claims related to the conditions of his incarceration were not appropriate for review under the federal habeas statutes. (Id., at Docs. 2, 3.) The action was dismissed.

         On January 9, 2015, the state trial court granted Petitioner's petition contesting his reclassification because the Ohio Supreme Court had concluded that Ohio's reorganized sex-offender registration scheme was unconstitutional. (Doc. 1-3, at PAGEID # 19-20.) Accordingly, the state trial court vacated Petitioner's Tier III classification, reinstated Petitioner's classification as a sexual predator under Megan's Law, and reinstated the requirement that he register as sex offender under that law. (Id.)

         It appears that Petitioner was subsequently indicted in the state trial court in two criminal cases for failing to register as a sex offender (State of Ohio v Coles, 17-cr-5028; State of Ohio v. Coles, 19-cr-3287). (Doc. 2, at PAGEID ## 52, 53, 55.) The public docket maintained by the Clerk of Court for Franklin County, Ohio, indicates that Petitioner has not been convicted of those charges in those cases. Indeed, it appears that trial is scheduled for August 29, 2019, in one of them. (State of Ohio v. Coles, 17-cr-5028, August 5, 2019.)

         On July 16, 2019, this Court received the instant petition for federal habeas relief. (Doc. 1.) Although not entirely clear, it appears that Petitioner asks this Court to restrain the state trial court from prosecuting him for failing to register as a sex offender. (Doc. 1, at PAGEID # 15.) Specifically, Petitioner asks this Court to “nullify, vacate, set aside all legal action and charges arriving from 2015 sexual predator decision.” (Id.) Petitioner also separately moves this Court for an Order staying the state trial court's current proceedings (Doc. 2), and for the appointment of counsel (Doc. 3.) In support of his requests for relief, Petitioner asserts that the state trial court's decision to reinstate his sexual predator classification in 2015 was unlawful, and he describes the many ways in which his classification as a sexual predator has impeded his ability to meaningfully reintegrate into society.

         Law and Analysis

         Petitioner's claims are not properly asserted under § 2254.2 Construing the pro se petition liberally, the Magistrate Judge concludes that Petitioner does not challenge his original state court conviction, and that he instead challenges the two current state court proceedings. Section 2254, however, applies in post-trial situations where a state prisoner is “in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). Although it appears that he has been criminally charged in those two state court cases for failing to comply with Ohio's sex-offender registration requirements, it does not appear that he has been convicted of any charges in those cases.

         A state pre-trial detainee can seek, however, federal habeas relief under § 2241. Phillips v. Court of Common Pleas, Hamilton Cty., Ohio, 668 F.3d 804, 809 (6th Cir. 2012); Atkins v. Michigan,644 F.2d 543, 546 n. 1 (6th Cir.1981). Nevertheless, it is not clear that Petitioner is a pre-trial detainee. Petitioner indicates that he is incarcerated at the Ohio Reformatory for Boys, 2 Petitioner may have intended to allege a claim under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 given that he also asks this Court to award him money damages. (Doc. 1, at PAGE ID # 15.) To the extent he wishes to do so, he must initiate a separate action under that statute and pay the ...

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