Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

State of Ohio v. David Martin, Case no. 2014-1922
Trumbull County Common Pleas Court

Kenneth Adams et al. v. Joseph W. Testa, Tax Commissioner of Ohio, Case no. 2016-0256 and 2016-0510
Ohio Board of Tax Appeals

Death Penalty

State of Ohio v. David Martin, Case no. 2014-1922
Trumbull County Common Pleas Court

David Martin is appealing his sentence of death following his convictions for the September 2012 murder of Jeremy Cole and shooting of Melissa Putnam in Putnam’s Warren home.

Martin Invited into Home, Shoots Pair
On the morning of Sept. 27, 2012, Cole met Putnam and drove her around on a job search, then they returned to her home and began smoking marijuana. Martin, whom Putnam knew from earlier drug deals, arrived and knocked on the door, and they all sat on the couch to smoke.

Putnam said Martin got up and went to the kitchen. When Martin returned, he pointed a gun at Cole. Martin ordered Putnam to tie up Cole with a phone cord and placed them in separate rooms. Putnam heard sounds and then a gunshot. Martin then approached Putnam and, as she held up her hands, shot her. She lost consciousness but, after awaking, crawled through a bedroom window and ran to the home of a neighbor, who called 911.

The coroner reported that Cole was shot between the eyes from a distance of 3 to 8 inches and died from that wound. Putnam was treated at a hospital for a gunshot wound to her hand and the back of her head. After viewing a series of photo arrays from police, Putnam identified Martin as the shooter.

Marshals Arrest Martin in Tallmadge Apartment
On Oct. 16, U.S. marshals located Martin at an apartment in Summit County. The resident of the apartment opened the door, and one of the marshals reported that he saw Martin, who was then arrested. The marshal noticed a gun near Martin, and the gun was taken into evidence and determined to be the weapon in the shootings at Putnam’s house.

The marshals transported Martin back to the Warren Police Department in Trumbull County. Along the way, Martin told the marshals he shot Cole and Putnam, and directed them to a location where he said he burned the clothes he wore the day of the shooting.

Trial Focuses on Punishment
Martin was indicted that month and charged with aggravated murder, attempted aggravated murder, aggravated robbery, kidnapping, receiving stolen property, and a weapons offense.

In April 2014, while being held at the Trumbull County jail, Martin and two other inmates took an officer hostage. During the five-hour standoff, Martin called and spoke to a reporter at a TV station.

Four months later, Martin’s trial began for Cole’s murder and the attempted murder of Putnam. In the defense’s opening statements, Martin’s lawyer noted that Martin had confessed to the crimes and that the case wasn’t about guilt, but about the appropriate punishment. The jury convicted Martin on all counts and specifications and, after the penalty phase of the trial, recommended the death penalty. The court sentenced Martin in September 2014 to death for aggravated murder and 61 years in prison for the remaining felonies.

Martin appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, which must review direct appeals in death-penalty cases. Martin has submitted 10 legal arguments to the Supreme Court.

Fairness of Trial, Evidentiary Issues, and Tampering Charges Raised by Martin
Among his arguments, Martin describes concerns about the fairness of his trial given the publicity before trial about the murder and the jail hostage situation. In a motion to relocate the trial, Martin submitted dozens of articles published about the murder and the hostage standoff. He contends that his lawyers did little to ensure that the jury had not been tainted by the publicity. Trial counsel failed to meaningfully ask potential jurors about media coverage of the case or the hostage episode, and those failures deprived him of effective assistance of counsel and due process, Martin asserts. In addition, he argues that the judge refused to move the trial and ignored safeguards that could’ve ensured a fair proceeding. Martin also takes issue with some of the individuals who were placed on the jury, including one who was Cole’s coworker.

Martin also contests the extent of the evidence – including the gun, the fired cartridges, and the cord used to tie up the victims – presented during the penalty phase of the trial. He argues the exhibits were irrelevant and prejudicial. One of the reasons for separating the guilt phase from the penalty phase of a trial is to limit what the jury can consider when deciding whether to sentence a defendant to death, but the evidence wasn’t limited in the second phase of his trial, Martin contends.

In addition, Martin claims that the state didn’t prove that he burned his clothes with the intent to impair its value or availability as evidence, which was necessary to establish that he had tampered with evidence. Martin argues this conviction must be overturned.

Martin maintains that while an arrest warrant had been issued, the marshals had no search warrant to allow them to enter or search the Summit County apartment where he was found and the gun was seized. In his view, the trial court should have granted the motion to suppress the gun as evidence because the marshals had no right to enter the apartment, the arrest wasn’t lawful, and the subsequent search that revealed the gun wasn’t legally permitted.

State Defends Evidence Gathering and Trial Proceedings
The Trumbull County Prosecutor’s Office states that none of the responses from potential jurors reflected extensive knowledge of the case facts or prejudice against Martin, especially given that his guilt wasn’t in dispute. The prosecutor also maintains that Martin’s lawyers chose not to ask potential jurors about the hostage standoff as part of their trial strategy. His lawyers didn’t violate their ethical duties by deciding not to advertise the hostage situation to potential jurors by asking them about it, the prosecutor contends. The prosecutor notes in the brief that jury selection lasted five days and the questioning by the trial court, the state, and his own counsel showed “scrupulous adherence” to Martin’s constitutional rights. The jury’s impartiality wasn’t jeopardized, and the trial site didn’t need to be moved, the prosecutor concludes.

As far as the evidence presented during the penalty phase, the prosecutor counters that the number of trial exhibits was reduced from 48 to 15. During this second phase, the state had to prove that “by killing Jeremy Cole with prior calculation and design, while purposefully attempting to kill two or more people, during the course of an aggravated robbery and kidnapping, as the principal offender, the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating factors,” according to the prosecutor’s brief. The prosecutor maintains that evidence such as the gun, the cartridges, and the cords were critical to proving the aggravating circumstances. The record doesn’t support Martin’s position on this issue, the prosecutor insists.

The prosecutor also notes that Martin didn’t deny burning the clothes he had worn the day of Cole’s murder. Even if Martin didn’t directly state why he burned the clothes (he responded “Why not?” when asked), the jury could discern that he did so because he thought the clothing likely contained some evidence of the crimes, the prosecutor maintains. From the prosecutor’s perspective, sufficient evidence was provided to the jury to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Martin tampered with evidence.

When the trial court rejected Martin’s request to exclude the gun, it concluded that the search of the Summit County apartment was done under exigent circumstances and was incident to Martin’s lawful arrest. The prosecutor counters, however, that no search was done in the Summit County apartment. The U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures gives people the right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, but Martin wasn’t arrested in his home, the prosecutor notes. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that an arresting officer may search the area in which an arrestee might reach to grab a weapon or other items. Because the gun was found in an area within Martin’s immediate control, the marshal properly confiscated and secured the weapon while executing the arrest warrant, the prosecutor maintains.

- Kathleen Maloney

Docket entries, memoranda, briefs (including amicus briefs), and other information about this case may be accessed through the case docket.

Representing David Martin: John Juhasz Jr., 330.758.7700

Representing the State of Ohio from the Trumbull County Prosecutor’s Office: LuWayne Annos, 330.675.2426

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Can Board of Tax Appeals Consider Challenges to Agricultural Land Valuation?

Kenneth Adams et al. v. Joseph W. Testa, Tax Commissioner of Ohio, Case no. 2016-0256 and 2016-0510
Ohio Board of Tax Appeals


  • When agricultural land appraised by the current agricultural use valuation (CAUV) is set by a state tax commissioner journal entry, can the entry be appealed to the Ohio Board of Tax Appeals (BTA) under R.C. 5717.02?
  • If the table of CAUV values in the journal entry was developed by following the rules set by the tax commissioner, is the entry itself also a rule?
  • If the CAUV values in the journal entry are a rule, can a taxpayer impacted by the entry contest the reasonableness of the rule before the BTA?
  • Does the BTA lack the authority to consider a challenge to the CAUV land value, and must a challenge by a taxpayer to the tax commissioner’s CAUV values be made by seeking a writ of mandamus?


Ohio’s current agricultural use valuation program requires the state tax commissioner to adopt rules to appraise farmland at its value based on its agricultural use rather than market value. CAUV also applies to woodlands that are contiguous to or part of a parcel used for agricultural purposes by the same owner. The commissioner establishes the CAUV values by issuing annual “Administrative Journal Entries.” The entries contain land table listings that value land by soil type. The tables are provided to county auditors, who apply the CAUV values to qualifying farm and woodlands in their counties. The values are updated every year.

What is CAUV?

Current agricultural use valuation (CAUV) is a real estate tax assessment program that allows owners of farmland to have their parcels taxed according to their value in agriculture, rather than full market value. It is the result of a statewide referendum passed by Ohio voters in November 1973. The Ohio General Assembly subsequently enacted a law in 1974 to establish the CAUV program.

This constitutional amendment was adopted to slow down the conversion of Ohio agricultural land and woodlands into residential developments and other non-agricultural uses. The amendment requires appraisals of agricultural land to be based on its potential agricultural income instead of market value that can be inflated by development pressure and demand.

What is CAUV?

Current agricultural use valuation (CAUV) is a real estate tax assessment program that allows owners of farmland to have their parcels taxed according to their value in agriculture, rather than full market value. It is the result of a statewide referendum passed by Ohio voters in November 1973. The Ohio General Assembly subsequently enacted a law in 1974 to establish the CAUV program.

This constitutional amendment was adopted to slow down the conversion of Ohio agricultural land and woodlands into residential developments and other non-agricultural uses. The amendment requires appraisals of agricultural land to be based on its potential agricultural income instead of market value that can be inflated by development pressure and demand.

The tax commissioner develops the values with the assistance of an agricultural advisory committee. The CAUV calculation begins with the soil type’s recorded yields for corn, soybeans and wheat, and is multiplied by an average commodity price for each of the three crops. The commissioner then factors in the costs of producing the crops. The costs of financing their growth are calculated based on current interest and equity rates.

For woodlands, the commissioner makes further adjustments. The value is computed based on the income the woodlands would produce if converted to cropland. The land clearing costs are deducted from the value. One clearing cost estimate presented to the commissioner found the current state average to be $3,350 per acre. The commissioner used $1,000 per acre for land valued using the 2015 tables, which applied to 24 counties. Because of the way counties update their property taxes, 64 counties were directed to use the tables produced in 2013 and 2014. For those two years, the clearing costs were set at $500 per acre.

Landowners complained that CAUV values were causing large increases in property taxes, and that the low estimate on land clearing was having a significant impact. One example from Ohio Department of Taxation records indicated a 30-acre woodland near Englewood, a suburb of Dayton, increased in value from about $3,000 in 2006 to $121,000 in 2014. The owner’s property tax increased from $62 to $3,140.

Landowners Challenge CAUV Update
Two groups of taxpayers sought to challenge the 2015 land values, arguing the CAUV woodlands owners are subjected to high appraisals due to the lowball land-clearing cost estimates.

A group of 44 taxpayers, which includes lead plaintiff Kenneth A. Adams, appealed to the BTA, maintaining that under R.C. 5717.02 the tables contained in the journal entries are final determinations by the commissioner that can be appealed to the BTA. The commissioner asked the BTA to dismiss the case, arguing the tables aren’t final determinations that are appealable under this code section. The BTA agreed with the commissioner.

As the Adams-led group pursued its case before the BTA, a separate group of landowners from Ashtabula County filed a class action lawsuit in common pleas court challenging the CAUV entries. The tax commissioner asked the court to dismiss the case, which was transferred to Franklin County, arguing the common pleas court has no jurisdiction over the validity of CAUV entries. The commissioner noted that a landowner may challenge the CAUV entry by filing an appeal with the BTA challenging the rules used to develop the land values.

Based on the commissioner’s position in the class action lawsuit, Adams filed a second appeal with the BTA under the “review of rules” statute, R.C. 5703.14. The commissioner asked the BTA to dismiss the appeal because it argued that the landowners’ appeal didn’t challenge the rules as it suggested, but rather contested only the “results” of the rules, which is not the same. The BTA sided with the commissioner.

Adams appealed both BTA decisions to the Ohio Supreme Court, which is required to hear appeals of BTA decisions. Adams asked that the two cases be consolidated, but the Supreme Court denied the request. However, the Court will hear oral arguments on both cases, back to back, first considering the rejection based on the claim that the entry is a final determination.

Group Charges Commissioner Wants to Evade Review
Adams argues that the commissioner is shifting his position, claiming before the BTA that the agency has no authority to reviews its order. But when appearing in court, the commissioner claims the judiciary has no right to review the CAUV entries, but the BTA does. Adams maintains the commissioner is attempting to “insulate his CAUV entries from any judicial scrutiny altogether,” and if his position is adopted, taxpayers will have no right to address unreasonable or unlawful CAUV entries.

Adams maintains that R.C. 5717.02 allows appeals of “final determinations by the tax commissioner of any preliminary, amended, or final tax assessments, reassessments, valuations, determinations, findings, computations, or orders made by the commissioner.” The BTA asserted that a final determination occurs after a preliminary determination is made by the commissioner about a specific taxpayer’s finding, the taxpayer responds to the commissioner by challenging the finding, and the commissioner makes a final determination after hearing from the taxpayer.

Adams argues that reading of the statute is too narrow and doesn’t define final determination. He disputes that only those decisions by the commissioner that go through a commissioner’s office proceeding are the only ones that can be appealed to the BTA. Instead, he asserts “final determinations” are any final decision made by the commissioner, the land value tables are final, and when published, the county auditors are required to use the tables to assess the CAUV parcels. Adams notes the BTA already has adopted the position that a landowner’s assessment based on the CAUV tables can’t be appealed to a county board of revision because the county auditors have no discretion setting the CAUV property value.

To prove the property tables are final determinations, Adams points to the requirement that the commissioner must publish the tables in the commissioner’s journal, and R.C. 5703.05(L) indicates the journal is a “record of all final determinations of the commissioner.”

CAUV Values Are Rules That BTA Can Review, Adams Argues
Adams suggests the commissioner gave the group a road map to follow when it sought dismissal of the Ashtabula County class action lawsuit. In that case, the commissioner argued the land values are “explicitly incorporated into the administrative rules.” Adams then filed an appeal with the BTA arguing the commissioner’s rules were unreasonable because the CAUV entries are based on unfairly low woodland clearance costs.

The BTA sided with the commissioner’s argument that CAUV rules prescribe how the commissioner is to develop the CAUV tables. The tables are not rules, but the results of the rules, and the commissioner maintains that Adams hasn’t alleged any flaw in the rules, but simply doesn’t agree with the outcome. Adams counters that R.C. 5703.14 allows a rule to be appealed if a person “has been or may be injured by the operation of the rule.” A rule’s “unreasonable results are evidence of the rule’s unreasonableness,” Adams concludes.

In both cases, Adams argues the CAUV entries were established by rules that were improperly developed because the commissioner didn’t use the rulemaking process that most agencies must follow under R.C. 119.03. Adams maintains the tables are being developed without appropriate public input. Because by not following R.C. 119.03, the proposed rules are not being filed with the secretary of state or the state’s Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review. Adams asserts that the entries be vacated and the commissioner start again using the R.C. 119.03 process.

Commissioner Counters That Position on CAUV Consistent
The tax commissioner argues that the office’s position in both of the Adams appeals to the BTA and the class action lawsuit are consistent. The commissioner maintains that if taxpayers want to challenge the CAUV tables, then a writ of mandamus must be sought from a court. He argues it is understandable why Adams would want a rule challenge because the standards are lower than a mandamus action. The BTA would have to determine that a rule is unreasonable, while in mandamus, a court must rule the commissioner abused his discretion, the commissioner noted.

The commissioner’s brief states if a person wants to challenge the “rules” that set up the process for determining the CAUV, then the BTA rule review process is appropriate. But if the challenge is to the commissioner’s application of the rules or ultimate result of the rules, that has to be done by mandamus, he argues.

“But R.C. 5703.14 provides no authority for the BTA to say what the new rule should be or to direct the Tax Commissioner to take any action. In order to obtain an order compelling the Tax Commissioner to follow his statutory duties (and exercise his discretion in a particular manner), the claimant would have to file an action in mandamus,” the brief states.

In response to the challenge regarding final determinations, the commissioner maintains he is conducting a ministerial act, and makes no “determinations” regarding any individual taxpayer’s property or valuation. The commissioner assembles the data supplied by the research of agricultural activities, applies the value estimates, and produces tables based on the figures. The county auditors use those tables to assess parcels of land. Nothing in the process requires the commissioner’s “judgment, deliberation, or discretion” that allows for the entries with the CAUV tables to be appealed to the BTA. The commissioner again notes that if a taxpayer takes issue with how the commissioner collects data or the factors the commissioner selected to compute the tables, then the appropriate appeal is through a writ of mandamus.

Friend-of-the-Court Brief
Nearly identical amicus curiae briefs supporting Adams’ positions in each case have been submitted by the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.

- Dan Trevas

Docket entries, memoranda, briefs (including amicus briefs), and other information about this case may be accessed through the case docket (2016-0256) and (2016-0510).

Representing Kenneth Adams et al.: Jack Van Kley, 614.431.8900

Representing the Ohio Tax Commissioner from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office: Daniel Fausey, 614.995.9032

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These informal previews are prepared by the Supreme Court's Office of Public Information to provide the news media and other interested persons with a brief overview of the legal issues and arguments advanced by the parties in upcoming cases scheduled for oral argument. The previews are not part of the case record, and are not considered by the Court during its deliberations.

Parties interested in receiving additional information are encouraged to review the case file available in the Supreme Court Clerk's Office (614.387.9530), or to contact counsel of record.