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Court News Ohio

Jury Instructions Defining “Enterprise” Upheld

The instructions given in a Montgomery County case alleging corrupt activity adequately defined the elements of an “enterprise” for the jury, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled today.

The jury instructions quoted from Ohio statutes defining “enterprise,” “corrupt activity,” and “pattern of corrupt activity,” so the instructions did not need to include language from federal case law, Justice Paul E. Pfeifer wrote for the court’s 6-1 majority.

The decision reverses the Second District Court of Appeals’ judgment that the jury instructions had been lacking, and the case now returns to the trial court to sentence De’Argo Griffin on the corrupt-activity charge. The ruling also resolves a conflict between Ohio appellate courts on the issue.

Griffin was convicted of drug-related charges and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity. On appeal, his convictions were initially affirmed in 2012 by the Second District. But the appellate court agreed to reopen the case to consider Griffin’s challenge to the jury instructions on the definition of “enterprise,” and the court then reversed that conviction.

The Second District also notified the Supreme Court that its decision conflicted with a 1996 case from the Ninth District Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court agreed to review the conflict and also accepted an appeal from the state.

Justice Pfeifer noted that the trial court’s instructions to the jury regarding “enterprise,” “corrupt activity,” and “pattern of corrupt activity” spanned three pages of the transcript and quoted from R.C. 2923.31, which defines terms related to corrupt-activity charges. Among other detailed instructions, the trial court explained to the jury that it must find beyond a reasonable doubt that Griffin, “while employed by or associated with an enterprise, conducted or participated in directly or indirectly the affairs of the enterprise through a pattern of corrupt activity ….”

Griffin had asked the trial court to define “enterprise” based on the U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Boyle v. United States (2009) or United States v. Turkette (1981). The federal definition would require the jury to find that people in the organization acted in concert and with a common purpose.

In Griffin’s case, Justice Pfeifer reasoned that the jury instructions did convey the law that Griffin would have included from the federal decisions.

“It is difficult to summarize certain legal principles into terms that lay people can use to reach factual conclusions,” Justice Pfeifer wrote. “There are times when more information is not better. There are times when more information is more likely to confuse than to inform a jury.”

“All the elements that Griffin sought to have included in the jury instructions were included, though in a different form than he requested, and those elements were also included in the verdict,” he continued. “We have no difficulty concluding that the concepts of ‘common purpose’ and ‘acting in concert’ are included in the concepts of ‘associating with an enterprise’ and ‘conducting or participating in the affairs of that enterprise.’”

Justice Pfeifer explained that the trial court provided definitions based on the relevant statutes and sufficiently communicating the law on the term “enterprise.” He concluded that the jury was given the instructions it needed to weigh the evidence and do its duty.

The majority opinion was joined by Justices Terrence O’Donnell, Sharon L. Kennedy, Judith L. French, and William M. O’Neill and by Judge Sheila G. Farmer of the Fifth District Court of Appeals. Judge Farmer sat in place of Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, who recused herself in the case.

Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger dissented. She first noted that although the court of appeals also reversed the conviction of Griffin’s co-defendant, Anthony Franklin, because of improper jury instructions, the state did not appeal that case. In Justice Lanzinger’s view, the appeals court correctly held that the statutory language included in the jury instructions was insufficient. She would have affirmed the court of appeals that treated the two defendants similarly.

The language in the Ohio statutes does not include the parts of the federal corrupt-activities law that Griffin wanted the court to present to the jury, Justice Lanzinger noted. She pointed out that the Ohio Supreme Court in State v. Scott (1986) held that “it is prejudicial error in a criminal case to refuse to administer a requested charge which is pertinent to the case, states the law correctly, and is not covered by the general charge.”

She concluded that the trial court should have given Griffin’s proposed instruction to the jury and that this was not one of the times that more information would have confused the jury.

2013-1129 and 2013-1319. State v. Griffin, Slip Opinion No. 2014-Ohio-4767.

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