The Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday reinstated rape and kidnapping charges against a Cleveland man who argued that a 20-year delay in indicting him was unconstitutional.
In a unanimous decision, the court also ordered an appeals court to reconsider the arguments of defendant Demetrius Jones using a different legal standard.
In a twist, the ruling in the closely watched case was praised by attorneys on both sides. Jones' lawyer said ordering the 8th Ohio District Court of Appeals to apply the different standard gives his client a new and stronger chance to fight the charges.
The state also applauded the decision after arguing that the dismissal of the charges by the appeals court last year created a legal precedent jeopardizing thousands of unsolved rapes being reinvestigated thanks to improved DNA testing.
"This ruling affirms law enforcement's ability to use new DNA technologies to bring criminals to justice," said Dan Tierney, a spokesman for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.
At issue was the 2013 indictment of Jones on a rape charge based on evidence found when an old rape kit was tested. Jones was accused of raping a woman he knew at his mother's apartment in 1993, according to Ohio Supreme Court documents.
The woman identified Jones to police and at the hospital where a rape kit was obtained, Russell Bensing, Jones' attorney, said in a court filing last fall.
Cleveland police set the investigation aside after two unsuccessful attempts to interview the accuser the following week and never tried to locate Jones or his mother, Bensing said.
Jones was indicted in 2013, one day before the deadline for prosecuting a case that old. His attorneys successfully asked a judge to throw out the case because the state took too long, and last year the appeals court upheld the decision.
Jones said his mother was home at the time and could have testified that the sex was consensual. She died in 2011, more than two years before he was indicted, unable to testify "solely due to the State's sloth in prosecuting this case," Bensing said.
The appeals court noted that Jones and his accuser were separately involved in the criminal justice system for years afterward, meaning both were known to authorities and could have been contacted before Jones' mother died.
The lower court relied too much on the reasons for the delay and didn't examine closely enough whether the delay was unfair to Jones, according to Wednesday's ruling.
Jones' argument isn't over just because he can't "articulate specifically what his mother's testimony would have been," Justice Judi French said.