In 2013, Emmanuel Elder found himself in court on two separate criminal cases. In the first case, Elder was convicted after his ex-fiancé filed a complaint against him alleging menacing by stalking. In the second case, he was convicted for unauthorized use of property.
Judge Albert S. Camplese, who presided over both cases, accepted Elder’s pleas of no contest and sentenced him accordingly. But that wasn’t the end of it; Elder filed appeals in both cases.
In his appeal on the first case, Elder sought a writ prohibiting Judge Camplese from asserting authority over him. Elder claimed that the ex-fiancé’s complaint contained insufficient probable cause to sustain the warrant for his arrest and was insufficient to sustain the court’s jurisdiction. He also complained of numerous alleged violations of his constitutional and other rights during the course of his confinement, arraignment, and plea.
In regard to the second case — Elder asserted that in November 2012, he was arrested on a charge of breaking and entering, which was later amended to a charge of unauthorized use of property. He claimed that no sworn affidavit was filed by “the true party” of interest — in other words, the victim.
Elder contended that as a result, the complaint was insufficient to show probable cause that he committed the offense. He asserted that the filing of a valid complaint is a prerequisite to the court’s acquisition of jurisdiction and that the court lacked such jurisdiction because the complaint was insufficient.
Without a valid complaint, Elder argued, the state could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed the alleged offense within the court’s territorial jurisdiction, and he couldn’t prepare a defense.
Elder further stated that the conviction was obtained in violation of his rights against unreasonable search and seizure and his rights to a fair and speedy trial, and to due process and equal protection.
Elder asserted that Judge Camplese intended to exercise judicial authority over him despite the lack of subject-matter, personal, or territorial jurisdiction. Elder claimed that he had exhausted his administrative remedies and that he filed a motion in the municipal court to vacate the judgment for lack of jurisdiction in both cases, but that the motions have been ignored.
Therefore, he asserted that he has no adequate remedy at law. He requested that the court of appeals void or vacate his conviction, “expunge” his DNA profile from the Ohio DNA data bank, and expunge his conviction from the public record.
Because he maintained that he had been wrongfully imprisoned, he also requested the issuance of a writ under the section of law that deals with jurisdiction of common pleas court to hear action for wrongful imprisonment, and the section of law that deals with action against the state for wrongful imprisonment.
After considering his arguments for both cases, the court of appeals dismissed both of Elder’s complaints. After that, Elder brought his appeal before us — the Ohio Supreme Court — for a final review.
To be entitled to the requested writ in either case, Elder had to establish three things. First, that Judge Camplese is about to or has exercised judicial power. Second, that the exercise of that power is unauthorized by law. And third, that denying the writ would result in injury for which no other adequate remedy exists in the ordinary course of law. Elder would not need to establish the lack of an adequate remedy if he could show that the lack of jurisdiction is “patent and unambiguous.”
As to the first element that Elder must establish, Judge Camplese undoubtedly took judicial action in presiding over Elder’s criminal cases and accepting his pleas in both cases. However, Elder has alternate remedies at law by way of appeal from the underlying convictions.
Specifically, “an extraordinary writ” — which is what Elder was requesting — “cannot challenge the validity or sufficiency of a charging instrument,” and the person filing it has an adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law by appeal to raise his claim that the criminal complaint was defective.
Nor was Judge Camplese patently without jurisdiction in either case. “The municipal court has jurisdiction to hear misdemeanor cases committed within its territory…” All of Elder’s convictions were for misdemeanors, and he made no explicit claim that they were committed outside the territory of Judge Camplese’s court.
Finally, as to the sufficiency of the complaint in each case, Elder — who acted as his own attorney for the appeals — was evidently confused by the concept of a complaint in a criminal case. It appears that he believes that the statement of the victim is the “complaint” whose validity determines the jurisdiction of the court.
But the difference between a victim’s statement and the complaint that actually initiates the formal proceedings against the accused is described in the Ohio law which states: “A private citizen having knowledge of the facts who seeks to cause an arrest or prosecution under this section may file an affidavit charging the offense committed with a reviewing official for the purpose of review to determine if a complaint should be filed by the prosecuting attorney or attorney charged by law with prosecution of offenses in the court or before the magistrate.”
Elder argued that in his first case, the complaining witness’ affidavit did not contain the information required by Criminal Rule 3, one of the rules that govern criminal trials in Ohio. But this does not amount to a defect in the criminal complaint. In the second case against him, the victim did not file any affidavit, but that also does not amount to a defect in the complaint.
Therefore — by a seven-to-zero vote — we affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals to dismiss Elder’s complaints in both cases.
The writer is a justice on the Ohio Supreme Court.