Unusual Criticism From Prosecutor After Appeals Court Dismisses Another Drug Case for Improper Venue

An Ohio Appeals Court dismissed drug trafficking case for improper venue, promoting unusual public criticism from an elected prosecutor.

The court had previously dismissed a related case for a similar reason.

The case is State v. Sparks, 2014-Ohio-1130.

In 2011, the Warren County Drug Task Force began investigating an alleged marijuana trafficking ring.  Undercover officers purchased marijuana on three different occasions in the Mason, Warren County, Ohio area.

The Task Force determined that the dealer had purchased his marijuana from a married couple in Hamilton Countyand from someone who grew marijuana in Butler and Hamilton Counties.  The Defendant grew marijuana for one of the suppliers at a house in Hamilton County. In exchange for growing and processing marijuana, the Defendant was allowed to stay in the house rent-free, and received a few hundred dollars every month.

The Defendant was indicted on numerous charges in Warren County.  He argued that the state failed to prove that venue was proper in Warren County because no element of his pattern of corrupt activity occurred in Warren County.

The court of appeals explained that “by indicting [the defendant] for engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, the state alleged that [the defendant] directly or indirectly conducted or participated in a corrupt activity with a group of persons associated-in-fact to traffic marijuana in Warren County.”

The court concluded that the case should have been dismissed because there was no tie to Warren County.  The court said,

Although the state adequately demonstrated that [the defendant] was engaged in the cultivation and trafficking of marijuana . . . in Butler County, Ohio for the benefit of [a co=defendant], the state failed to demonstrate that [they] formed an enterprise with others . . . for the trafficking of marijuana in Warren County. . .   Rather, the evidence presented at trial indicates that each individual had his own separate and distinct “business” venture when selling marijuana and that each individual participated in his own affairs. There is no evidence that any of these individuals had any involvement in the others’ business affairs; there is no evidence that they joined together to make money for the same enterprise; and there is no evidence demonstrating that their motive to make a profit was common in the sense it supported the enterprise. While the various individuals may have had the same purpose in selling their marijuana (i.e., to make money), having the same purpose is not the equivalent of having a “common purpose.”

In a highly unusual statement, the Warren County prosecutor criticized this decision.  From the Dayton Daily News:

Fornshell said the majority opinion interprets the laws as if we are living in “a prohibition era mob” world, but today he said the people at the center of corrupt organizations don’t want their underlings to know who they are.

“The 12th District fundamentally misunderstands the nature of what constitutes a criminal enterprise under Ohio law,” he said. “And have basically created new elements that now we as prosecutors have to satisfy.”


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