The Sixth Amendment provides that every person charged with a criminal offense is entitled to the effective assistance of counsel. In capital cases, where the defendant’s life is at stake, this right is of the utmost importance. Unfortunately, however, hundreds of overturned capital convictions and sentences demonstrate that counsel failures remain prevalent even in these most consequential cases. Clemency can be one way to remedy these failures, especially when the court system has failed to do so. Ohio Governor John Kasich has shown a recognition of the importance of constitutionally adequate representation through recent executive action stopping the scheduled executions of Ronald Post, Raymond Tibbetts, and Cleveland Jackson.
In 2012, Governor Kasich granted clemency to Ronald Post. In a statement about the decision to commute Mr. Post’s sentence, Governor Kasich said that "regardless of the heinous nature of their crime, a criminal defendant is entitled to an effective defense, especially in a death penalty case." At Mr. Post’s trial, defense counsel clashed over how to proceed with the case and eventually convinced Mr. Post to plead “no contest” to the death penalty charges, even though his role in the killing was limited to driving two other individuals to the scene of what he thought was a robbery. Mr. Post claimed to be unaware that anyone had even been killed until reading about it later in a newspaper. As eventually noted by the Ohio Parole Board (“Board”), a plea of no contest is extremely rare in death penalty cases. At the time, Mr. Post was the only prisoner to be sentenced to death in Ohio after a plea of “no contest.” As a result of this plea, Mr. Post was never given the opportunity to present mitigating evidence to a jury to allow him to plead for leniency from a death sentence or demonstrate his relatively limited culpability in the crime. Although Mr. Post sought to reopen his case during federal appeals, he was denied discovery, effectively limiting the ability of his attorneys to bring any new claims. The Sixth Circuit subsequently dismissed his appeal, leaving clemency the sole avenue for relief from his sentence. Upon reviewing Mr. Post’s case, the Ohio Parole Board stated that "a capital case necessitates a level of attentio and responsible tactical decision making commensurate to its gravity," and concluded that “the representation afforded Post throughout his prosecution and beyond did not rise to the level that society has come to expect in death penalty cases.” The Board recommended that Mr. Post be granted a commutation, and Governor Kasich agreed, ultimately commuting his sentence to life without parole. Mr. Post died in prison in 2013, seven months after having been granted clemency.