A case to vacate a sentence for a Louisville resident who led officers on a high speed chase has taken a turn in Fayette County.
According to briefs and emails disclosed in the case filed in the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas, the U.S. government now recognizes that a Louisville resident sentenced in the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas was a child at the time he committed an offense, but he remains incarcerated as an adult.
Attorneys with the Ohio Public Defender’s Office and the Justice for Children Project are working to have the conviction vacated, arguing that the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas had no jurisdiction to try a minor.
In 2015, the Louisville resident, Isse Mohamed, led the Ohio State Highway Patrol on a high speed chase in a stolen Subaru Legacy from Kentucky on Interstate 71 and then through Clinton and Fayette counties.
Following his arrest in the 2015 high speed chase, Mohamed told criminal justice officials after a preliminary hearing in the Clinton County Municipal Court that his birth date was incorrect and that he was 17, not 18, as his identification card indicated. As a minor, Mohamed’s case would be transferred to juvenile court. He also stated that he was a refugee from Kenya and was in the U.S. as an immigrant with a green card.
The case was picked up by the Fayette County Prosecutor’s Office after a Fayette County grand jury indicted Mohamed in 2015; charges from the case in Clinton County were dropped. Mohamed was indicted on five felony charges from the high speed chase but was convicted on two charges: failure to comply and receiving stolen property.
He was sentenced to three years in prison in 2015.
Mohamed’s attorney Katherine Lazarow, assistant public defender in the juvenile division of the Office of the Ohio Public Defender, filed a motion in 2016 to vacate the sentence, arguing that as a minor, the common pleas court had no jurisdiction and the case would have to be transferred to juvenile court.
A hearing was held for the motion Sept. 20, 2016 in the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas. Mohamed and his family testified that when the family immigrated to the U.S., Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) gave the family “a bag of documents” and issued each family member the same birth date of Jan. 1, with an approximate year to estimate their ages until their birth certificates could be sent to the U.S.
Mohamed testified that he always used the green card he was issued with the Jan.1 birth date and did not have any other official documents that show a different birth date. His Kentucky identification card was created using his green card, so it had the same Jan. 1 birth date.
Mohamed’s mother and sister testified that ICE had issued their cards with a Jan. 1 birth date as well. Mohamed’s sister, Farhiya, testified she learned her birth date on her green card was wrong when she was in high school. Upon receiving her birth certificate from Kenya, Farhiya was able to meet with immigration workers to correct her birth date on her immigration documents.
Mohamed further testified during the Sept. 20 hearing that his attorney, Susan Wollschied, had told the court that he was underage.
“The day the judge sentenced me, Susan (Wollscheid) told me she told the judge I was underage and the judge didn’t want to believe it,” said Mohamed.
He was sentenced as an adult and sent to the Corrections Reception Center (CRC) in London, where Mohamed said he talked to someone with immigration there, who told him a lot of people come from other countries with the wrong age and that “it’s nothing new.”
“The woman called my people in Kenya,” testified Mohamed. He was told that the birth date on his Kenyan birth certificate is Feb. 26, 1998, which would have made him 17-years-old at the time he committed the crime.
He then testified that he was separated from the adults and juveniles in the CRC detention facility and isolated in a room for six months while the Ohio Bureau of Rehabilitation and Corrections sent a copy of his Kenyan birth certificate to immigration. He testified immigration then sent a copy to his attorney at the time, Susan Wollscheid, but he said she didn’t do anything about it.
The family hired Katherine Lazarow, the assistant public defender in the juvenile division of the Office of the Ohio Public Defender, as defense counsel and she argues that because Mohamed was a minor at the time he committed the crime, the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas did not have jurisdiction over the case and the conviction should be overturned and transferred to juvenile court.
In addition to Mohamed’s attorney Katherine Lazarow, the director of the Justice for Children Project and Moritz College of Law professor Kimberly Jordan is working on the case, providing assistance with immigration.
The brief filed after the hearing in September to vacate the sentence states, “Since the date of the hearing the state of Ohio has received a telephone call from ICE (Immigration Customs and Enforcement) in which it was relayed to the state that the United States Government now recognizes the defendant’s date of birth as occurring in 1998.”
The brief continues with: “The state has requested that this information be relayed to them in official documents. “
So far, the state has not received any official immigration documents with Mohamed’s corrected birth date.
Mohamed’s immigration attorney, Kimberly Jordan, said Mohamed has a pending application for amending his official immigration documents with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in Columbus. But she wrote in an email that before the application can be approved and the documents can be sent to the state, Mohamed must undergo a biometrics appointment with fingerprinting.
As Mohamed is currently incarcerated in prison at London Correctional Institution, Jordan asked USCIS to travel to the prison to complete the biometrics appointment. She said USCIS refuses to go to the prison to do Mohamed’s biometrics appointment and refuses to use fingerprints on file from the time of his arrest.
Mohamed’s attorneys then appealed to the warden at London Correctional Facility and requested that the prison transport Mohamed to USCIS for the biometrics appointment; the warden wrote in an email that they will not transport Mohamed to his biometric appointment in Columbus.
The attorneys then turned to the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas, where they filed a motion for emergency transport to have the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office transport Mohamed from the London Correctional Institution to the biometrics appointment at the USCIS Application Support Center in Columbus. The motion to transport Mohamed to USCIS in Columbus was overruled by Steven Beathard, Fayette County Court of Common Pleas Judge, Oct. 26, 2016.
Without the completion of his biometrics appointment with fingerprinting with USCIS, Mohamed’s attorneys say the birth date on his official immigration documents cannot be amended. The fate of Mohamed’s motion to vacate the conviction in the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas is still to be determined by the judge, which is dependent upon the state receiving those official amended documents.
The U.S. government now recognizes Mohamed was a minor at the time he committed the offense; his attorneys now say that because he was tried as an adult and convicted of a felony charge for receiving stolen property and is unable to amend his immigration documents or renew his green card, he is now at risk for deportation.
Reach Ashley at (740) 313-0355 or on Twitter @ashbunton