State ex rel. Suwalski v. Peeler

Decision Date18 November 2021
Docket Number2020-0755
Citation2021 Ohio 4061
PartiesThe State ex rel. Suwalski, Appellee, v. Peeler, Judge; Ewing, Appellant.
CourtOhio Supreme Court

Submitted April 27, 2021

Appeal from the Court of Appeals for Warren County, No CA2019-05-053, 2020-Ohio-3233.

Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center and Elizabeth A. Well; and Ohio Domestic Violence Network and Micaela Deming, for appellee.

Christopher Pagan, for appellant.

Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff, L.L.P., Gregory J. Phillips, Addisah Sherwood, and James J. Walsh Jr.; and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, L.L.P., Bruce A. Ericson Julia E. Judish, Jeetander T. Dulani, Charrise L. Alexander, Alton L. Hare, and Katherine T. Danial, urging affirmance for amici curiae Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project, Aequitas, The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Inc., and Legal Aid of Western Ohio, Inc.

O'Connor, C.J. {¶ 1} Appellant, Roy Ewing, was convicted in Warren County of misdemeanor domestic violence for assaulting his then-wife, appellee, Jamie Suwalski. As a result of that conviction, federal law prohibits Ewing from possessing a firearm, see 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(9), unless, as relevant in this case, the domestic-violence offense is one for which Ewing "has had [his] civil rights restored" under Ohio law, 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(33)(B)(ii). Ewing filed in the Warren County Court of Common Pleas an application under R.C. 2923.14 for relief from his federal firearms disability, and Judge Robert W. Peeler, [1] a judge of that court, granted Ewing's application and issued an order restoring his firearms rights.

{¶ 2} Suwalski sought a writ of prohibition in the Twelfth District Court of Appeals, seeking to prevent Judge Peeler's order from being effective and invoking Article I, Section 10a of the Ohio Constitution, also known as "Marsy's Law." The court of appeals permitted Ewing to intervene. The court of appeals granted the writ, holding that Judge Peeler lacked the judicial power to relieve Ewing of the federal firearms disability imposed by 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(9). 2020-Ohio-3233, 155 N.E.3d 47, ¶ 24.

{¶ 3} We agree that a writ of prohibition is warranted, but our rationale for that conclusion differs from that of the court of appeals. Because Suwalski has established the elements necessary for a writ of prohibition, we affirm the judgment of the court of appeals.

I. Relevant Background

A. Ewing Is Convicted of Domestic Violence for Assaulting Suwalski

{¶ 4} In April 2017, Ewing was convicted in Warren County of domestic violence under R.C. 2919.25 and violating a protection order under R.C. 2919.27, both first-degree misdemeanors. The convictions arose from Ewing's assault of Suwalski. He was sentenced to 20 days in jail, with ten days suspended, one year of probation, and a fine. The Twelfth District affirmed Ewing's domestic-violence conviction on direct appeal. State v. Ewing, 12th Dist. Warren Nos. CA2017-05-062 and CA2017-05-063, 2018-Ohio-451.

B. Relevant Firearms-Disability and Restoration Statutes

{¶ 5} Ewing's conviction for misdemeanor domestic violence triggered his firearms disability under the federal Gun Control Act, 18 U.S.C. 921 et seq. Specifically, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(9) provides:

It shall be unlawful for any person * * * who has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence, to ship or transport in interstate or foreign commerce, or possess in or affecting commerce, any firearm or ammunition; or to receive any firearm or ammunition which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce.[2]

{¶ 6} The firearms restrictions imposed by 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(9) do not apply to every misdemeanor-domestic-violence conviction. In the definitions section of the Gun Control Act, Congress provided four circumstances in which a misdemeanor-domestic-violence conviction does not trigger the firearms restrictions:

A person shall not be considered to have been convicted of such an offense for purposes of [18 U.S.C. 921 et seq.] if the conviction has been expunged or set aside, or is an offense for which the person has been pardoned or has had civil rights restored (if the law of the applicable jurisdiction provides for the loss of civil rights under such an offense) unless the pardon, expungement, or restoration of civil rights expressly provides that the person may not ship, transport, possess, or receive firearms.

(Emphasis added.) 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(33)(B)(ii).

{¶ 7} The law of the jurisdiction in which a person was convicted determines whether the person has had his "civil rights restored" within the meaning of the Gun Control Act. See Caron v. United States, 524 U.S. 308, 312-313, 118 S.Ct. 2007, 141 L.Ed.2d 303 (1998). Governing such a determination under Ohio law is R.C. 2923.14, which allows "any person who is prohibited from acquiring, having, carrying, or using firearms" to "apply to the court of common pleas in the county in which the person resides for relief from such prohibition." R.C. 2923.14(A)(1). Relevant here, R.C. 2923.14 allows a common pleas court to grant the application if the applicant (1) has been "fully discharged" (if the disability was the result of a conviction), (2) "has led a law-abiding life since discharge * * * and appears likely to continue to do so," and (3) "is not otherwise prohibited by law from acquiring, having, or using firearms." R.C. 2923.14(D)(1)(a) and (D)(2) and (3).

C. Ewing Applies for Relief from His Firearms Disability

{¶ 8} In February 2019, Ewing filed in the Warren County Court of Common Pleas an application for relief under R.C. 2923.14, seeking an order relieving him of the firearms restrictions imposed by 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(9). The state did not contest the trial court's authority to grant the requested relief; to the contrary, it stipulated that R.C. 2923.14 allows a court of common pleas to grant relief from a federal firearms disability to a person who is under the disability due to a misdemeanor-domestic-violence conviction. The state did not call Suwalski as a witness at the hearing on Ewing's application, but it submitted to the court her unsworn statement opposing the restoration of Ewing's firearms rights.

{¶ 9} Judge Peeler granted Ewing's application and ordered that he be "restored to all civil firearm rights to the extent enjoyed by any citizen." The state did not appeal Judge Peeler's ruling.

D. Suwalski Seeks Relief in Prohibition

{¶ 10} One month after Judge Peeler granted Ewing's application, Suwalski filed a complaint for a writ of prohibition in the Twelfth District. Suwalski alleged that Judge Peeler lacked jurisdiction to relieve Ewing of his federal firearms disability and that Judge Peeler's order doing so violated her rights, as a crime victim, to safety and protection under Marsy's Law, Article I, Section 10a(1) and (4) of the Ohio Constitution. She further alleged that she had the right to petition the court of appeals for relief under Article I, Section 10a(B). Specifically, she sought a writ of prohibition restraining Judge Peeler from carrying into effect his order relieving Ewing of the firearms disability.

{¶ 11} The court of appeals granted Ewing's motion to intervene, and the case was submitted for a decision following the parties' filing of merit briefs and a stipulated statement of facts. The court of appeals granted a writ of prohibition, holding that Judge Peeler lacked the judicial power under Ohio law to relieve Ewing of the federal firearms disability imposed by 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(9). 2020-Ohio-3233, 155 N.E.3d 47, at ¶ 24.

{¶ 12} Ewing appealed to this court as of right.

II. Analysis

{¶ 13} In an appeal of right from a court of appeals' judgment in an extraordinary-writ action, we review the judgment as if the action had been originally filed in this court. State ex rel. Taylor v. Glasser, 50 Ohio St.2d 165, 166-167, 364 N.E.2d 1 (1977).

A. Marsy's Law

{¶ 14} Marsy's Law was established on February 5, 2018, when Article I, Section 10a of the Ohio Constitution was amended following an initiative adopted by Ohio voters at the 2017 general election. Marsy's Law enumerates ten victims' rights, "which shall be protected in a manner no less vigorous than the rights afforded to the accused." Article I, Section 10a(A), Ohio Constitution. Those rights include the following:

(1) to be treated with fairness and respect for the victim's safety, dignity and privacy;
(2) upon request, to reasonable and timely notice of all public proceedings involving the criminal offense or delinquent act against the victim, and to be present at all such proceedings;
(3) to be heard in any public proceeding involving release, plea, sentencing, disposition, or parole, or in any public proceeding in which a right of the victim is implicated;
(4) to reasonable protection from the accused or any person acting on behalf of the accused;
(5) upon request, to reasonable notice of any release or escape of the accused;
(6) except as authorized by section 10 of Article I of th[e] constitution, to refuse an interview, deposition, or other discovery request made by the accused or any person acting on behalf of the accused;
(7) to full and timely restitution from the person who committed the criminal offense or delinquent act against the victim;
(8) to proceedings free from unreasonable delay and a prompt conclusion of the case; (9) upon request, to confer with the attorney for the government; and
(10) to be informed, in writing, of all rights enumerated in this section.


{¶ 15} Marsy's Law additionally provides victims with the ability to vindicate those rights in the courts:

The victim, the attorney for the government upon request of the victim, or the victim's other lawful

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT