Euclid Man’s Assault Falls Within Domestic Violence Law
Cohabitation Proven, Domestic Violence Conviction Reinstated
The Supreme Court of Ohio today ruled that a Euclid man was living with his girlfriend as a spouse, so his conviction for domestic violence must be reinstated.
In the majority opinion, which reverses the judgment of the Eighth District Court of Appeals, Justice Terrence O’Donnell wrote that the appellate court misconstrued the Supreme Court’s ruling in an earlier domestic violence case, State v. Williams (1997).
In January 2011, Cynthia Robinson argued with her boyfriend, Jeffrey McGlothan. McGlothan pushed and grabbed Robinson, and, as a result, he detached a permanent tracheostomy tube, which enabled her to breathe. McGlothan helped Robinson call 9-1-1, and emergency-room physicians reinserted the tube without surgery. The following month, McGlothan was indicted for felonious assault and domestic violence.
During a bench trial, Robinson testified that, at the time of the incident, McGlothan was her boyfriend and had lived with her in her apartment for about a year. She said that McGlothan slept overnight at her apartment every night and had helped her put things up on the wall when he moved into the apartment.
The court found McGlothan guilty of attempted felonious assault and domestic violence, and he was sentenced to two years in prison.
McGlothan appealed to the Eighth District. The court affirmed the attempted felonious assault conviction but overturned the domestic violence conviction, holding that the state had failed to present sufficient evidence to support McGlothan’s conviction for domestic violence based on its analysis of the Supreme Court’s explanation of the term “cohabitation” in Williams. The appeals court stated that there was no testimony that the couple shared any living expenses, such as rent and utilities, which would demonstrate shared familial or financial responsibilities.
The state appealed the decision to the Ohio Supreme Court. The case was orally argued at the court’s off-site session in Bucyrus on October 23, 2013.
In today’s 4-3 decision, Justice O’Donnell wrote that the appellate court misread Williams as holding that evidence of shared living expenses is necessary to establish cohabitation.
“In Williams, the victim testified that she and the defendant ‘were going together’ but that they did not live together,” Justice O’Donnell explained. “The victim’s testimony that for a few months she stayed more nights at Williams’s place than at her own further illustrates that they did not share a residence but rather that each had a separate residence. … Thus, in order to prove cohabitation when the victim and the defendant do not share the same residence, evidence of shared financial or familial responsibilities and consortium is required.”
“In contrast to Williams, Robinson testified that McGlothan was her boyfriend and that they had lived together in her apartment for approximately a year, thus establishing that they did share one residence,” Justice O’Donnell continued. “Because the state demonstrated that the defendant was the victim’s boyfriend and that they had lived together for about a year, the state had no obligation to demonstrate the sharing of familial or financial responsibilities and consortium to prove cohabitation in this case. Instead, based on Robinson’s testimony, the trial court could have reasonably determined that the state established cohabitation and thus that Robinson was a person living as a spouse with McGlothan.”
Quoting Williams, Justice O’Donnell wrote: “[W]e have explained that the General Assembly ‘recognized the special nature of domestic violence when it drafted the domestic violence statutes’ and ‘believed that an assault involving a family or household member deserves further protection than an assault on a stranger.’”
“[W]e recognize that McGlothan and Robinson were not strangers but rather lived together and were in a relationship from which the domestic violence arose,” he concluded. “Therefore, considering the intent of the General Assembly in enacting the statute, we determine that Robinson was a person living as a spouse and therefore, McGlothan’s crime falls within the purview of the domestic violence statute.”
Joining the majority were Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Paul E. Pfeifer and Sharon L. Kennedy.
Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger dissented stating that she would have dismissed the case as improvidently allowed. In her dissent, she criticized the majority for broadening the reach of the domestic violence statute and overruling a portion of Williams by holding that “merely living in the same residence will satisfy the element of cohabitation for the domestic-violence statute.”
“Williams clearly requires … sharing familial or financial responsibilities as well as consortium,” Justice Lanzinger wrote. “One witness testifying about living together for a year could satisfy both elements by indicating that there was a sharing of provisions for shelter or utilities and that there was society or companionship, provided that the fact-finder was satisfied that the evidence established these elements beyond a reasonable doubt. In this case, the court of appeals held that the state had not met its burden to show proof of cohabitation because there was insufficient evidence of shared living expenses.”
She also noted that the majority should have sent the case back to the appellate court to resolve the issue of allied offenses, which McGlothan had raised in his appeal to the Eighth District.
Justice Judith L. French also entered a dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justice William M. O’Neill. Justice French wrote that she agrees with the majority that “cohabitation” in the domestic violence statute does not require proof that the victim and offender shared living expenses. Instead, Williams made clear that “the first element of cohabitation requires proof that the offender and victim shared in either the ‘familial or financial’ responsibilities of the household,” she noted.
However, she dissented because she does not think the evidence showed that McGlothan shared in either type of household responsibility.
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