WHEELING – An Ohio County man is suing over claims he was unlawfully convicted of crimes in Wheeling.

James R. Crawford filed a petition for a writ of coram nobis, which provides relief from convictions wrongfully made, Oct. 3 in Ohio Circuit Court against the city of Wheeling, respondent.

According to the complaint, Crawford has been homeless and a chronic alcoholic, and he alleges that he has been subjected to criminal proceedings in the Municipal Court of Wheeling that violate his rights. The complaint states this included being detained without being promptly presented to a judicial officer, being denied an opportunity for bail to be set, not being told the nature of charges and being denied the rights to have proceedings recorded, have an attorney present, seek to have an attorney appointed and be advised of the maximum sentence that can be imposed.

All of this, according to the complaint, has led to extended detentions and the imposition of of excessive sentences. Crawford seeks relief for himself and the class of all persons similarly situated, more specifically, all persons convicted of a violation of a city ordinance since June 2, 1969, wherein a complete record of the proceedings was not made.

Crawford extends as an example his arrest for public intoxication April 12. He says pursuant to city ordinance, the maximum sentence that can be imposed for this violation is a $100 fine, not imprisonment, but he was taken to the Northern Regional Jail and Correctional Facility, where he was kept from April 12 to April 16. Crawford says the failure to present him to a judicial officer meant that he didn't have the necessary information to challenge his detention as unlawful.

According to the lawsuit, his hearing April 16 was not recorded, which is required for guilty pleas by city, state and federal law. Crawford says he was not notified of his right to a lawyer or jury trial, and he was ordered to be confined until May 16, without credit for the four days he had already spent in jail. Furthermore, the complaint states that the prosecution of chronic alcoholics for public intoxication has been declared unconstitutional.

According to the lawsuit, Crawford has been arrested by the Wheeling Police Department on multiple occasions, and the above failures of the Municipal Court were true of each incident though his sentences were different.

The complaint lists other such sentences as 20 hours of community service, which is excessive when satisfying a $100 fine as the per hour rate credited to the fine lawfully must satisfy minimum wage, fines of more than $100, 120 days of probation and 30 days in jail, which was dismissed when he ultimately obtained the services of the public defender.

Crawford seeks judgment that his convictions and sentences such as the aforementioned are void.

He is represented by attorneys Martin P. Sheehan of Sheehan and Nugent in Wheeling, and Paul J. Harris and Shawn Lucas Fluharty of Harris Law Offices in Wheeling.

Ohio Circuit Court case number: 14-C-292

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