Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Reduced Penalty Applies When Amended Statute Takes Effect Before Sentencing

A court has a duty to impose a reduced sentence when a defendant is sentenced for a crime after legislation takes effect that reduces the penalty or punishment, according to a ruling today from the Ohio Supreme Court.

Because of the Supreme Court’s 6-1 decision, which reverses the decision of the Ninth District Court of Appeals, Lucious Taylor’s first-degree misdemeanor theft conviction and sentence stands.

Between the time Taylor was indicted for a fifth-degree felony for stealing $550 worth of cologne from Sears and when he was sentenced in 2011, H.B. 86 went into effect. The new law amended the state statute of theft (R.C. 2913.02(A)(1)) by increasing the threshold minimum amount of the value of stolen property for a fifth-degree felony from $500 to $1,000.

In Summit County Common Pleas Court, Taylor pleaded no contest to the indictment, which was amended to a first-degree misdemeanor on the basis of the new law. The court found Taylor guilty of a misdemeanor, sentenced him to a suspended 120 days in jail, and placed him on two years of community control. The state appealed to the Ninth District, which partially reversed the trial court. The Ninth District found that Taylor should have been convicted of a fifth-degree felony, but that he was entitled to be sentenced to a first-degree misdemeanor.

The Ninth District certified that a conflict existed between its decision and two rulings from the Fifth District Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court determined that a conflict existed and agreed to hear the case.

In the majority opinion authored by Justice Terrence O’Donnell, he wrote that “the legislature intended to afford the benefit of a decreased theft offense classification to offenders like Taylor, and therefore the trial court properly convicted and sentenced him for a misdemeanor violation.”

“R.C. 1.58(B) provides that if the penalty or punishment for an offense is reduced by amendment of a statute and if sentence has not already been imposed, then the amended reduced penalty or punishment shall be imposed. Thus, in accordance with R.C. 1.58(B) and the uncodified portion of Section 4 of H.B. 86, the determining factor on whether the provisions of H.B. 86 apply to an offender is not the date of the commission of the offense but rather whether sentence has been imposed,” Justice O’Donnell continued.

“In this case, Taylor had not been sentenced as of the date the amendments became effective and therefore pursuant to R.C. 1.58(B), the court had a duty to impose sentence in accord with the amended statutes.”

Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Judith Ann Lanzinger, Sharon L. Kennedy, and William M. O’Neill joined the majority opinion.

In a concurring opinion, Fourth District Court of Appeals Judge William H. Harsha III, who sat in place of Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor as a visiting judge, noted the “one factor that bolsters my conclusion: the express reference in section 4 of H.B. 86 to R.C. 1.58(B).”

“If the legislature had intended that only a reduced-penalty benefit would apply to Taylor, it did not have to refer to R.C. 1.58(B). That result would have occurred by operation of law. Thus, it is clear to me that the legislature intended its reference to R.C. 1.58(B) to have the effect we give it.”

“Because R.C. 1.58 applies to reduce Taylor’s penalty, the uncodified language in H.B. 86 makes the amendments to R.C. 2913.02 apply, Judge Harsha concluded, so Taylor “gets both a reduced penalty and reduced classification regardless of whether ‘classification’ and ‘penalty’ are in effect one and the same.”

Justice Judith L. French wrote a dissent noting that the majority opinion largely avoids addressing the issue of “whether the classification level of an offense qualifies as a ‘penalty’ or ‘punishment’ to the offender, apart from any actual sentence the offender receives.”

“Ultimately, both the majority and the concurrence narrowly focus on who should receive the benefit of retroactive amendments, without asking which amendments even apply retroactively,” she wrote. “The opinions assume, incorrectly, that any statutory amendment will apply retroactively through R.C. 1.58(B). But the plain language of R.C. 1.58(B) belies any such conclusion. Only amendments dealing with penalties, forfeitures, or punishments can apply through R.C. 1.58(B). And an amendment changing the classification of an offense is not an amendment to a penalty or punishment. It is not, therefore, entitled to retroactive application.”

2012-2136. State v.Taylor, Slip Opinion No. 2014-Ohio-460.

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