Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Eighth District: Court Acts to End Cleveland Driver’s Long Legal Journey

An Ohio appeals court – after ruling  that a Cleveland judge improperly reduced a man’s drunken driving charge – recently ruled the man can’t be tried again for the incident.

Since Troussaint Jones’ June 2013 arrest, his case bounced from municipal court to appeals court to the Ohio Supreme Court, then back to local court, before returning to the appeals court.

The Eighth District Court of Appeals ruled on Aug. 24 that it would violate Jones’ constitutional rights against double jeopardy if the Cleveland Municipal Court proceeded again with prosecution of criminal charges. The charges were filed after an Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper saw Jones swerve between lanes on Interstate 480 in Cleveland at about 4:30 a.m.

Higher Courts Divided on Procedural Dispute
Objections by Cleveland city prosecutors about how the municipal trial judge handled the case led to a series of divided rulings by higher courts:

  • The municipal court heard the case and sentenced Jones to a reduced charge in October 2013.
  • The city appealed.
  • The Eighth District ruled 2-1 in September 2014 that the trial judge couldn’t amend a charge over the objections of the prosecutors.
  • However, the two-judge majority didn’t agree on why the trial court was wrong. They issued separate opinions and sent the case back to the trial court for further proceedings.
  • Before those proceedings began, Jones appealed the Eighth District’s decision to the Supreme Court, which agreed in 2015 to hear the case.
  • The Supreme Court conducted oral arguments in February 2016, but didn’t issue an opinion, instead ruling that it improvidently accepted Jones’ case.
  • That order let the Eighth District’s opinion stand. But the Supreme Court added the rare directive that the appeals court decision couldn’t be used as precedent in any other case except for further legal proceedings for Jones. The case then was sent back to municipal court and assigned to another judge.
  • Jones asked the municipal court to dismiss the pending charges, claiming double jeopardy, but the trial judge denied the request. Jones then appealed to the Eighth District.

Judge Skeptical of Trooper’s Claims
The trooper cited Jones for violating four state laws: operating a vehicle while intoxicated (OVI); OVI with a prior OVI in the past 20 years and refusing to submit to a test; driving with a 12-point suspension; and driving over marked lanes. The trooper told the judge that Jones was “immediately, verbally combative” and “aggressive” toward him and smelled of alcohol. The trooper said that because of Jones’ attitude and the location of the stop, he was unable to perform a field sobriety test.

Jones claimed he wasn’t drunk and swerved because he was reaching for his cell phone. However, the trooper concluded that he smelled of alcohol and had glassy, bloodshot eyes.

Jones’ attorney entered a no contest plea for Jones to the charges. Despite objections by the city prosecutor, the judge amended the OVI violation to a Cleveland city violation for physically controlling a vehicle while intoxicated. The judge then found Jones not guilty of the second OVI, and found him guilty of driving under suspension and crossing marked lanes. She sentenced him to 60 days in jail, with 55 days suspended; ordered him to attend a serious of programs and meetings related to drug and alcohol abuse; fined him; and placed him on probation.

Second Trial Denied
Writing for the Eighth District, Judge Mary Boyle explained that the double jeopardy clauses in the U.S. and Ohio constitutions pertain to three scenarios: a second prosecution for the same offense after acquittal; a second prosecution for the same offense after a conviction; and multiple punishments for the same offense.

Jones claimed all three applied in his case, and the Eighth District agreed. Judge Boyle noted that neither Jones nor the city challenged the judge’s finding that Jones wasn’t guilty of two OVIs within 20 years, and the parties didn’t challenge his conviction for driving under suspension or over marked lanes. The disagreement between the two centered on whether Jones should have been charged with the city code violation, and if the city could still charge him with the more severe OVI charge.

Judge Boyle wrote that it would seem like a conflict by the Eighth District to initially send the case back to the trial court, stating the judge wrongly reduced the charge, only to now rule Jones can’t face any other charges.

The Eighth District reasoned that by Jones pleading no contest to all charges and the trial court finding Jones guilty of the physical control charge, the “court implicitly found Jones not guilty of OVI.” That means the trial court acquitted Jones of the OVI charge, and double jeopardy wouldn’t allow for a second prosecution of a charge after an acquittal.

Judge Boyle noted that because of the difference of opinions by the Eight District in 2014, and the Supreme Court’s 4-3 vote without an opinion to let that decision stand, there was no clear indication from a higher court that Jones could be tried again.

“To put it simply, the only thing that the lead opinion and the concurring opinion agreed on, was the result that the judgment of the trial court should be reversed,” she wrote.

The Eighth District remanded the case to the trial court with instructions to dismiss the charges and correct the record to clearly state the city never agreed to reduce the OVI charge.

Cleveland v. Jones, 2017-Ohio-7320.

Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.

Adobe PDF PDF files may be viewed, printed, and searched using the free Acrobat® Reader
Acrobat Reader is a trademark of Adobe Systems Incorporated.