Travis Soto (file photo)
Travis Soto (file photo)

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in the matter of State of Ohio v. Travis Soto gained momentum recently when a consortium of national, state, and county level public defense organizations filed an Amicus Brief supporting the action.

Through a plea deal negotiated in September of 2006, Soto entered a plea of guilty to a single charge of child endangerment related to the death of his two-year-old son, Julio Soto Baldazo in what was then believed to be a tragic ATV accident. In exchange, the State of Ohio dropped an initial charge of involuntary manslaughter. Then, in July of 2016, five years after completing a five-year sentence on the child endangerment charge, Soto voluntarily entered the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office and confessed to beating his son to death, then staging the accident.

With Soto’s confession in hand, the State presented a new case to a newly convened grand jury, which returned a multi-count indictment against Soto, including charges of aggravated murder and murder. After failing in a bid to have Soto deemed incompetent to stand trial, Joseph Benavidez, Soto’s attorney at the time, then filed a double jeopardy motion with the court in order to eliminate the two most severe charges: aggravated murder and murder.

First denied by then Putnam County Common Pleas Court Judge Randall Basinger, Ohio’s 3rd District Court of Appeals upheld the appeal in February of 2018. In April of last year, County Prosecutor Gary Lammers argued in oppposition to the 3rd District’s position before the Ohio Supreme Court. In October, justices of the Ohio Supreme Court in a 5-1 decision overturned the lower court’s ruling, opening Soto to capital murder charges.

Responding to the Ohio Supreme Court’s ruling, attorneys with the Office of the Ohio Public Defenders and Cleveland-based law firm Paul W. Flowers Co., LPA, submitted an application for appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. At stake, according to Louis Grube, an attorney with Paul W. Flowers Co., LPA, is nothing short of the way the criminal justice system currently operates.

“This is going to impact, you know, 97 or 98% of the cases in the United States if the rule keeps hold,” Grube said last January. “If the rule is that you can open up and re-prosecute any charge that was dismissed prior to a guilty plea, not only do people have to worry about entering guilty pleas at the risk that maybe the state’s going to turn around and go after them for things that were already dismissed right after they plea, but there are old closed cases nationwide that have that same problem.”

On March 31, a slew of public defenders weighed in on the matter when they filed a brief supporting the appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court. Signing on were the Public Defender Association, the Ohio Justice & Policy Center, California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, the Florida Public Defender’s Association, Inc., the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Indiana Public Defender Council, the Michigan State Appellate Defender Office, the Minnesota Board of Public Defense, the Washington Defender Association, the Ashtabula County Public Defender’s Office, the Franklin County Public Defender, the Law Office of the Hamilton County Public Defender, and the Law Office of the Public Defender, Montgomery County, Ohio.

According to Grube, the U.S. Supreme Court last Tuesday, April 7, asked the State of Ohio for a response to the appeal. The State of Ohio, now represented by the State Solicitor General, a service division of the Ohio Attorney General’s office, has until May 7 to respond.