Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

State of Ohio v. James W. Jones, Case No. 2022-1049
Eighth District Court of Appeals (Cuyahoga County)

State of Ohio v. Tyler Wilson, Case No. 2022-1482
Second District Court of Appeals (Clark County)

State of Ohio v. Timothy Williams, Case No. 2022-1053
First District Court of Appeals (Hamilton County)

Did Appeals Court Follow Law When Reviewing Consecutive Sentences?

State of Ohio v. James W. Jones, Case No. 2022-1049
Eighth District Court of Appeals (Cuyahoga County)

ISSUE: Did an appeals court conduct an appropriate independent review of a trial court decision to impose consecutive sentences?

The Cleveland Heights police obtained a warrant and searched the property of James Jones. The police found vape pens, more than a pound of marijuana, and a loaded handgun. Jones was charged in a different case after being found asleep in the driver’s seat of his vehicle with the car in “drive” and his foot on the brake pedal. While these two cases were moving through the justice system, Jones was arrested when he again was found sleeping in the driver’s seat of his vehicle.

Jones pled guilty in July 2021 to multiple offenses related to these incidents – trafficking, possession of criminal tools, having a weapon illegally, and being in control of a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court imposed consecutive sentences of 30 months for trafficking and 30 months for having a weapon illegally, for a total of 60 months in prison. The sentences for the other offenses were ordered to run concurrently to the 60 months.

At the sentencing hearing, the trial judge stated that the sentences “will run consecutive because it’s necessary to protect the public from future crime by you. As I said, 36 arrest cycles in 37 years of life. So – and you’ve done the same crimes over and over again. So I believe it’s necessary to protect the public from future crime. And 60 months is not disproportionate to the crimes you have committed in this case, as well as you committed one or more of these offenses while you were already under arrest on a previous case, okay, so that’s also important here. Also, at least two or more of the multiple offenses were committed as part of one or more courses of conduct and, like I said, 60 months is not – is not too much for the crimes committed and it adequately reflects the seriousness of your conduct. And of course, your criminal conduct has been atrocious.”

Jones appealed to the Eighth District Court of Appeals. In June 2022, the appeals court upheld the trial court judgment but sent the cases back to the trial court to issue a corrected sentencing entry (called nunc pro tunc). The trial court was directed to incorporate all findings it made at the sentencing hearing to justify imposing consecutive sentences.

Jones appealed the imposition of consecutive sentences to the Supreme Court of Ohio, which accepted the case.

Man Maintains That Reasons for Consecutive Sentences Not Identified
Jones contends that the trial court order that he serve two of his sentences consecutively was improper. He notes that in Ohio it is presumed that sentences for multiple offenses will be served concurrently unless the trial court identifies certain factors required by state law. The relevant statute explains that the trial court first must find that “consecutive service is necessary to protect the public from future crime or to punish the offender and that consecutive sentences are not disproportionate to the seriousness of the offender’s conduct and to the danger the offender poses to the public.” Then the trial court also must find one of three additional factors, Jones notes.

Jones argues that the trial court failed to make the required finding that the consecutive sentences were proportionate to the danger he posed to the public. He believes the trial court committed another error by not explaining a different factor regarding committing offenses as part of a “course of conduct.”

Jones also asserts that when the case was considered on appeal, the Eighth District didn’t conduct a meaningful review of the reasons consecutive prison terms were imposed, as mandated by R.C. 2953.08(G)(2). He maintains that an appeals court reviewing consecutive sentences must conduct its own independent review of the record to determine whether the evidence supported the trial court’s findings. But in his case, the trial court didn’t make all of the required findings, so the Eighth District couldn’t review them, Jones contends. When the Eighth District determined that the findings were incomplete, it should have remanded the matter to the trial court, Jones argues. He also maintains that the Eighth District completed some independent analysis, but its references to the record were broad rather than specific.

State Contends Independent Review by Appeals Court Supports Sentences
The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office counters that the Eighth District followed the statutory requirements. It reviewed the record, determined that that trial court engaged in the correct analysis for imposing consecutive sentences, and ruled that the record contained evidence to support the trial court’s conclusions, the prosecutor argues.

The prosecutor also notes that the Eighth District ruling happened to align with guidance presented in the Supreme Court of Ohio decision in State v. Gwynne (2022), even though Gwynne was released after the Eighth District ruling. Gwynne requires appellate courts to determine whether the trial court made appropriate findings for consecutive sentences. Gwynne also directs appellate courts to review the full record and independently decide whether it clearly and convincingly supported running the sentences consecutively, the prosecutor explains.

The prosecutor maintains that the Eighth District completed the steps spelled out in Gwynne. The appeals court conducted both a meaningful review of the case and an independent review of the record – as shown by references in its opinion to evidence in the trial court record, the prosecutor argues. Neither Gwynne nor the statute require anything more, the prosecutor concludes.

Attorney General Submits Brief, Will Argue Case With Prosecutor
An amicus curiae brief supporting the Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s position was submitted by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. The attorney general argues that Gwynne requires courts to ensure that consecutive sentences are appropriate under state law and that the overall aggregate sentence is justified. The attorney general notes that the sentences for most of Jones’ offenses were ordered to run concurrently and only two were imposed consecutively. Jones’ case is unlike Gwynne because the trial court for Jones didn’t impose multiple consecutive sentences, the attorney general argues.

The attorney general points out that a motion asking the Court to reconsider Gwynne is pending. If Gwynne is reconsidered and its holdings are modified, then the Court should dismiss this case as improvidently accepted, the attorney general maintains.

The attorney general will argue before the Court, sharing the time allotted to the prosecutor.

Kathleen Maloney

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

Representing James W. Jones: Joseph Patituce,

Representing the State of Ohio from the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office: Sarah Hutnik,

Representing the Ohio Attorney General’s Office: Benjamin Flowers,

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Is Firing Warning Shot Enough to Have Jury Consider Self-Defense Claim?

State of Ohio v. Tyler Wilson, Case No. 2022-1482
Second District Court of Appeals (Clark County)

ISSUE: Is a defendant entitled to a self-defense jury instruction when he intentionally fires a gunshot near an assailant to deter an attack but without the intent to hit, kill, or injure the assailant?

Tyler Wilson and Billy Reffett provided conflicting accounts of their June 2021 encounter at a Springfield gas station. The incident led Wilson to shoot at Reffett and Reffett pursuing Wilson in a high-speed chase.

Wilson was with his friend Alaina Drugroyal at a gas station, where he parked in front of a gas pump. Drugroyal owned the car and had a loaded gun in the car. Wilson purchased doughnuts, milk, and gas. As the two sat in the car, Reffett pulled into the same gas station in his truck. Reffett is in the tree removal business, and he pulled past Drugroyal’s smaller car. As Reffett pulled past the car, Wilson yelled to him that he was too close and almost hit Drugroyal’s car. Reffett put his truck in reverse and pulled up alongside the car so that he was looking down nearly face-to-face with Wilson. Wilson said Reffett was so close that Wilson couldn’t open his car door if he tried. Wilson said Reffett was yelling at him and spitting in his face. He said Reffett pointed a gun at him and said, “I’ll smoke you out here.”

Wilson responded by finding Drugroyal’s gun and firing a shot, which struck the window of Reffett’s truck near Reffett’s head. Reffett moved the truck, and Wilson sped away. Reffett chased Wilson. Wilson claimed that Reffett was trying to run him off the road. Wilson’s car ran out of gas on the highway. Reffett, who had called 911 to complain about Wilson as he was chasing him, reported Wilson’s license plate. Reffett then went to his tree-cutting job scheduled that day and returned to Springfield later to talk to the police.

Reffett said he heard Wilson say he was too close but replied that he didn’t think he was. He admitted making a sarcastic comment to Wilson and deriding the condition of Drugroyal’s car. She told him he would feel sorry for her if he knew why her car was in such condition. He said he replied, “Actually, I wouldn’t.” That angered Wilson, who then pulled out a gun and shot at him. Reffett said he didn’t have a weapon, and the only item in his hand was his cellphone.

Shooter Charged With Attempted Murder
The Clark County Prosecutor’s Office charged Wilson with attempted murder and felonious assault. Both charges included firearm specifications. The case went to trial. After the presentation of evidence, but before closing arguments, the trial judge questioned the attorneys as to what jury instructions should be given. The judge stated he was considering giving the jury instructions on self-defense and explaining what the parties would have to prove if Wilson claimed self-defense. The trial judge then said he wasn’t inclined to allow a self-defense claim based on the evidence but would allow Wilson’s attorney to object to his decision before proceeding. Wilson’s attorney let the case go to the jury without claiming self-defense or a jury instruction on self-defense.

The jury acquitted Wilson of attempted murder but found him guilty of felonious assault. The judge sentenced Wilson to eight to 12 years in prison for the assault charge. The sentence was to run consecutively to sentences for two gun specifications, for a total of 16 to 20 years in prison.

Wilson appealed his conviction to the Second District Court of Appeals, which affirmed his conviction in a 2-1 decision.

Wilson appealed to the Supreme Court of Ohio, which agreed to hear the case.

Court Wrongly Denied Self-Defense Instruction, Defendant Argues
Wilson argues that the lower courts relied on the wrong case law to deny his self-defense claim and are setting a dangerous precedent in doing so. Wilson explains that self-defense is an affirmative defense, which means he is not denying that his actions constitute the crime of felonious assault, but rather that he was justified in doing so. At his trial, Wilson admitted shooting the gun but said it was intended to get Reffett to “back off.” He said he had no intention of injuring or killing Reffett and wasn’t even aiming at him with the intent for the bullet to hit him. Although he didn’t use the word “warning shot,” he argues that was his intention.

The trial court wavered on whether to provide a self-defense instruction because felonious assault, in R.C. 2903.11(A), requires a person to “knowingly” cause serious physical harm or attempt to cause serious physical harm. The judge maintained that by testifying that he didn’t intend to shoot at Reffett, Wilson was denying he was guilty of felonious assault. That is different from admitting he committed the act but arguing it was justified. The Second District agreed that Wilson wasn’t entitled to a self-defense jury instruction because he didn’t claim he intended to injure or kill Reffett. The appellate court also found that Wilson couldn’t claim his trial attorney was ineffective for not asking for a self-defense claim.

Wilson maintains this is a misleading interpretation of felonious assault and that has the dangerous consequences of allowing a self-defense claim when someone intends to injure or kill another but denying self-defense to those who fire warning shots. He argues that warning shots should be enough to justify a self-defense claim because he intentionally fired a deadly weapon within two to three feet of his assailant to deter an attack. He shouldn’t have to prove he meant to go as far as intending to injure his assailant to have a jury consider self-defense, he maintains.

He explains that if given the jury instruction, under current Ohio law, the prosecutor would have to prove that Wilson didn’t act in self-defense. It should be up to the jury, not the trial judge, to determine whether Wilson has a viable reason to fear for his life, and whether firing warning shots is a suitable form of self-defense, he concludes.

Shooter Can’t Make Contradictory Arguments to Escape Conviction, Prosecutor Asserts
The prosecutor argues that Wilson isn’t entitled to testify on the stand that he didn’t commit the crime while also arguing he was justified in committing the crime. Wilson’s statements that he didn’t aim at Reffett and had no intention of shooting at him, let alone injuring or killing him, are attempts to refute the claim that he committed a crime, the prosecutor maintains. Wilson and his trial attorney attempted to argue that he wasn’t guilty of murder or felonious assault and there was no need to instruct the jury on self-defense. Wilson may have argued that he shot the gun because of fear for his safety, but that isn’t an argument of self-defense, the office explains.

For the jury to receive a self-defense instruction, Wilson had to argue that he intentionally used force to repel or escape a threat of force from Reffett. He would also have to show that he was not at fault for causing the conflict, had a valid reason to believe he needed to use force to escape danger, and didn’t violate any duty to retreat, the prosecutor explains.

The prosecutor argues that firing a warning shot wouldn’t lead to a charge of felonious assault, but perhaps a lesser charge of aggravated menacing. A justified true warning shot wouldn’t support either charge because there is no attempt to cause or threaten physical harm. Wilson isn’t admitting he committed a crime by firing the gun and can’t argue self-defense, the prosecutor maintains. The trial judge was justified in declining to offer it, and Wilson’s attorney wasn’t ineffective for failing to request one, the office asserts.

An amicus curiae brief supporting Wilson’s position was submitted by the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Dan Trevas

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

Representing the State of Ohio from the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office: Christian Sorg,

Representing Tyler Wilson: Kate Bowling,

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Can Juvenile Face Additional Criminal Charges Once Case Transferred to Adult Court?

State of Ohio v. Timothy Williams, Case No. 2022-1053
First District Court of Appeals (Hamilton County)

ISSUE: Can a tampering with evidence charge be added in adult court to a juvenile transferred from juvenile court on a murder charge if no effort was made to charge or find probable cause of tampering with evidence in juvenile court?

In this case, the Supreme Court of Ohio will further review what charges a juvenile may face once a case is transferred to adult court from juvenile court. The parties dispute the findings of the Supreme Court’s 2022 decisions in State v. Smith and State v. Burns, and a change to the juvenile bindover law – R.C. 2151.23(H) – made by the General Assembly in April 2023 based on the Court’s rulings.

In April 2020, Timothy Williams was 16 years old when he agreed to help a friend whose car was set on fire to get revenge. Williams went to the home of Jamal Lawson with a gun. Jamal’s mother opened the door, and Williams mistakenly shot and killed the mother, Leslie Lawson. Hamilton County law enforcement soon traced the crime to Williams and filed a delinquency complaint in juvenile court. He was charged with murder and felonious assault, and both included firearm specifications. The Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office sought to have Williams tried as an adult, and a bindover hearing was conducted.

At the hearing, Williams’ attorney tried to cast doubt on whether Williams was involved because there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime scene. In response, the prosecutor presented Vincent Thompson, who was incarcerated for unrelated crimes. Thompson testified that the day after Lawson’s death, Williams sold him a gun for $150 and stated it was “dirty,” inferring it was connected to a crime. Thompson bought the weapon and several days later sold it.

Based on the evidence, the juvenile court determined there was probable cause that Williams committed the charged offenses of murder and felonious assault. The case was transferred to adult court. There, a grand jury indicted Williams for murder, felonious assault, and tampering with evidence.

Williams pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of involuntary manslaughter and to tampering with evidence. He received consecutive sentences of 17 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter and three years for tampering with evidence for a total of 20 years. Despite pleading guilty, he appealed the tampering with evidence conviction in July 2021 to the First District Court of Appeals.

As Williams’ appeal was pending in the First District, the Supreme Court issued its decision in State v. Smith, which clarified what charges could be transferred to adult court once a juvenile court completes a probable cause hearing. Based on Smith, the First District vacated the tampering with evidence charge, finding the adult court couldn’t consider the charge because no probable cause of tampering with evidence had been found by the juvenile court that transferred the case.

The prosecutor’s office appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case. The Court granted the Ohio Attorney General’s Office the right to argue the case on behalf of the county.

Adult Court Can Add Charge, Prosecutor Asserts
The attorney general argues that the Smith decision doesn’t apply to the Williams case. After Smith, the state Supreme Court issued its State v. Burns decision in late 2022. The attorney general maintains the Burns decision solidified the state’s right to add the tampering with evidence charge after the case was transferred to adult court.

The attorney general argues that the First District overstated the decision in Smith, which found that when a juvenile case is transferred to adult court, the defendant can only be charged with crimes for which the juvenile court found probable cause and can’t be charged with crimes for which the juvenile court didn’t find probable cause. The Smith decision didn’t address charges that weren’t presented to the juvenile court during the bindover proceedings, the state argues.

 In 2023, state lawmakers incorporated the Smith ruling into R.C. 2151.23, the attorney general explains. However, the law retained a provision that stated an adult court has jurisdiction to rule on an “offense that was the basis of the transfer of the case for criminal prosecution, whether the conviction is for the same degree or a lesser degree of the offense charged, for the commission of a lesser-included offense, or for the commission of another offense that is different from the offense charged.”

Based on the “commission of another offense that is different from the offense charged,” the law allows for the addition of the tampering with evidence charge, the state asserts. In Burns, the Supreme Court ruled that an adult charge can be added to a juvenile’s case if the new charge is “rooted in” or “based on” the acts alleged in the juvenile complaint.

The tampering charge is rooted in the murder of Lawson, the attorney general maintains. The state notes that tampering with evidence arises from another crime for which an investigation or legal proceeding is underway. Williams got rid of the gun to hide his role in Lawson’s murder. Because the two crimes are intertwined, the adult court had the authority to consider the tampering with evidence charge even if it wasn’t raised in juvenile court, the attorney general concludes.

New Charge Can’t Be Added in Adult Court, Teen Asserts
Williams maintains the First District appropriately applied the Smith decision. The change in state law clarified that only charges for which probable cause is found in juvenile court can be considered in adult court, he argues. The law allowed the adult court in his case to consider lesser-included charges to murder and felonious assault, which were transferred to adult court, but the prosecutor couldn’t add a charge of tampering with evidence because the charge wasn’t presented in juvenile court, Williams asserts. The teen questions why the prosecutor didn’t attempt to charge him with tampering with evidence in juvenile court after it produced Thompson as a witness. Thompson testified that he bought the gun that was the suspected murder weapon from Williams, who repeatedly expressed the need to get rid of it.

Williams argues that Burns was wrongly decided and that juveniles are not to be treated in adult court in the same manner as adults. He claims the prosecutor wants more power to add charges in secret by going to a grand jury rather than making his case in an open juvenile proceeding where juvenile defendants can challenge the evidence.

If Burns were to apply to his case, Williams argues the tampering with evidence charge still couldn’t be added because the charge is not rooted in or based on the murder and assault charges that were transferred. The tampering charge is based on actions that were unrelated to the murder and happened two days after Lawson’s death. Williams disputes the prosecutor’s claim that the sale was one day later. A detective investigating the case testified that the gun used to kill Lawson was never found. Williams argues the state has never linked the gun he sold to Thompson to the murder weapon, and Thompson didn’t testify that he knew about the shooting or if the gun he purchased was used to kill Lawson.

Because the tampering charge isn’t related to murder or assault, and the prosecutor never sought probable cause for tampering in juvenile court, the charge couldn’t be added in adult court. Under the revisions to R.C. 2151.23, it is clear that if the state wanted to pursue him for tampering with evidence, it would have to file the complaint in juvenile court where he wouldn’t face adult punishment for the crime, Williams concludes.

Friend-of-the-Court Brief Submitted

An amicus curiae brief supporting the prosecutor’s position was submitted by the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office.

Dan Trevas

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

Representing the State of Ohio from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office: Benjamin Flowers,

Representing Timothy Williams from the Ohio Public Defender’s Office: Lauren Hammersmith,

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