Fictitious Justice: How Factually Baseless Pleas Undermine Victims’ Rights

About this event

A factually baseless plea is a plea to a charge that everyone in the system — the defendant, the state, the court and the victim — knows that the defendant did not commit. While such legal fiction would, at first glance, seem to be foreign to our criminal justice system, these pleas happen frequently, particularly in cases involving sexual violence. These pleas are often negotiated in violation of victims’ rights and when allowed to stand cause real harm to our communities. Consider as one example, the criminal defendant charged with rape who is allowed to plead to aggravated assault, a crime that requires the victim to have provoked attack. The presenters will use Ohio law and case data to explain the practice and its impacts. The presenters will then identify steps advocates and attorneys can take in individual cases and at the policy level to stop the practice.


Justice Michael P. Donnelly is the 160th justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio. He took office in January 2019, following his statewide election in November 2018 to a full term on the Court. Prior to joining the state Court, Justice Donnelly served as a judge on the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, General Division for 14 years. He was elected to the seat in November 2004 and re-elected in 2010 and 2016. In addition, from 2010 to 2017, he was one of five judges on Cuyahoga County’ Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Court, which oversees criminal cases involving defendants who suffer from severe mental illness or developmental disabilities. Before serving as a member of the local judiciary, Justice Donnelly was an assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor from 1992 until 1997. He then went on to practice civil litigation for seven years, first practicing at an insurance-defense firm, and later joining a firm where he represented injured workers and other plaintiffs in asbestos litigation, personal injury lawsuits, and workers’ compensation claims.

Justice Donnelly served on the Ohio Supreme Court’s Commission on Professionalism from 2007 to 2012 and chaired the Commission during his final year. During his tenure on the Commission on Professionalism, he helped establish the highly successful Lawyer to Lawyer Mentoring Program, which has received national accolades. He also spent more than a decade personally mentoring new lawyers.

Justice Donnelly has also been a faculty member of the Ohio Judicial College, teaching both attorneys and judges at numerous continuing-legal-education seminars on professionalism and issues of criminal and civil justice reform and procedural fairness. Justice Donnelly is a proud recipient of the 2015 Honorable William K. Thomas Professionalism Award from the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, the 2017 Public Service Award from the Ohio Association of Civil Trial Attorneys, and the 2020 Alumni of the Year Award from Cleveland Marshall College of Law. He was inducted into Cleveland Marshall College of Law Hall of Fame in 2021. He is a graduate of Cleveland’s St. Ignatius High School and John Carroll University, and he received his Juris Doctor degree from Cleveland State University’s Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. He was admitted to the practice of law in Ohio in 1992.

Elizabeth Well is the Legal Director at Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center. Elizabeth graduated from Ohio University with a bachelor’s degree in political science and attended Ohio Northern University for law school, where she graduated with a juris doctorate with distinction. In her time with Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center, Elizabeth has provided assistance to hundreds of crime victims, litigating their rights in trial and appellate courts, provided training to thousands of criminal justice system officials on victims’ rights in Ohio, and participated in the Marsy’s Law constitutional amendment campaign, including a leading role in drafting the amendment’s implementing legislation. Elizabeth is also an adjunct instructor at Columbus State Community College in the paralegal studies department.


American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation services will be provided for this training.

MCLE Accreditation: An application will be submitted to the Oregon State Bar for 1.0 general MCLE credit. Once approved in Oregon, this program will be approved for 1.0 general MCLE credit with the State Bar of California; NCVLI is an approved CA multiple activity provider. The training may be eligible for CLE credit in other states; a certificate of attendance will be available after the program.

This training was produced under 2020‐V3‐GX‐K022, awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this training are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.