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Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Supreme Court Interprets Elements Needed to Prove Corrupt Activity

In corrupt activity cases the same evidence can establish both the existence of an “enterprise” and the associated pattern of corrupt activity, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled today.

Writing for the court’s majority, Justice Paul E. Pfeifer also concluded that the state does not have to prove defendants are associated with an organization that exists separately and distinctly from the pattern of corrupt activity in which it engages.

The 5-2 judgment reverses the Second District Court of Appeals’ decision and returns the case to the trial court for resentencing.

Jordan Beverly and Brandon Imber stole or received stolen vehicles outside Clark County, then returned to the county knocking on doors and looking for empty homes to rob. Beverly was convicted in August 2011 for receiving stolen property, burglary, other felonies, and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity.

Beverly appealed, and the Second District reversed his corrupt activity conviction. The state filed an appeal with the Ohio Supreme Court.

Majority Ruling
Ohio’s corrupt activity statute is based on the federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

For a RICO conviction, a defendant must commit two or more underlying offenses, be employed by or associated with an enterprise, and conduct or participate in the enterprise through a pattern of corrupt activity, Justice Pfeifer wrote, quoting the Ohio Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in State v. Miranda.

He noted that RICO convictions require proof of both the existence of an enterprise and the connected pattern of corrupt activity. However, he pointed out, Ohio’s relevant statutes don’t state that the enterprise and the pattern of corrupt activity must be established with separate evidence.

In RICO cases, an enterprise is harder to prove because there is typically no employer but rather an “association in fact” or a de facto enterprise, he explained. This type of enterprise has been defined in U.S. Supreme Court decisions as “a group of persons associated together for the common purpose of engaging in a course of conduct.”

“The [U.S.] Supreme Court stated that ‘the existence of an enterprise is an element distinct from the pattern of racketeering activity and ‘proof of one does not necessarily establish the other,’’” Justice Pfeifer wrote. “We agree with this conclusion, that proof of one essential element does not ‘necessarily’ prove another. But we emphasize that, logically, evidence that proves one of the elements can sometimes prove the other, even though it doesn’t necessarily do so.”

“The penultimate sentence of the [United States v.] Boyle opinion essentially answered the question before us when it stated that ‘proof of a pattern of racketeering activity may be sufficient in a particular case to permit a jury to infer the existence of an association-in-fact enterprise,’” he added.

“We hold that the existence of an enterprise, sufficient to sustain a conviction for engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity under R.C. 2923.32(A)(1), can be established without proving that the enterprise is a structure separate and distinct from a pattern of corrupt activity,” Justice Pfeifer wrote.

He concluded that the record in this case demonstrates that Beverly and Imber associated together for the common purpose of engaging in a course of conduct.

Based on the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision last October in State v. Griffin, he added that the jury’s instructions, which defined the relevant terms by quoting from R.C. 2923.31, also were proper.

Joining the majority opinion were Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Terrence O’Donnell and Sharon L. Kennedy. Justice Judith L. French concurred only in the judgment of the court.

Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger dissented in an opinion joined by Justice William M. O’Neill.

Dissenting Opinion
Justice Lanzinger agreed with the majority that evidence may prove more than one element of a corrupt activity charge. However, each element must be considered separately, and the state in this case did not prove the existence of an enterprise, she reasoned.

“[The majority] view of the term ‘enterprise’ waters the concept down to mean two or more people acting together to commit the same crime,” she wrote. “It is not enough for a defendant to simply act in concert with someone or be involved with a pattern of corrupt activity.”

“I agree that the pattern of corrupt activity was established but do not see how Beverly and Imber were involved in any type of ongoing organization, functioning as a continuing unit with a common purpose,” she concluded.

Also, based on her dissent in Griffin, Justice Lanzinger would have held that inadequate instructions were given to the jury on the element of enterprise.

2013-0827. State v. Beverly, Slip Opinion No. 2015-Ohio-219.

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