About adamengel

J. Adam Engel, LLC is a boutique law practice dedicated to representing individuals facing serious criminal charges such as white collar crimes and computer crimes, including appeals. Engel offers more than 15 years of experience and is a recognized source for assertive legal representation Ohio. Engel has significant experience handling Fourth and Fifth Amendment cases involving search and seizure matters and Miranda rights issues, and has written extensively on these issues. An experienced former prosecutor, trial lawyer, and appellate advocate, Engel partners with clients and works directly with them in order to determine the best route to pursue.
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Court of Appeals Reverses Felony Domestic Violence Conviction. Engel represented Defendant.

An Ohio Court of Appeals has reversed a domestic violence felony conviction for a woman in Greene County.

J. A. Engel and Mary Martin from Michael K. Allen & Associates represented the defendant.

The case is available to read here:  State v. Zumwalde,  2014-ohio-1285

In January, 2013, the defendant was arrested on a charge of domestic violence after an incident with her husband. She did not dispute that her conduct constituted the offense of domestic violence, but she challenged whether the State could prove that this was a felony offense. In Ohio, a second or subsequent offense of domestic violence is a felony. A first offense is a misdemeanor.

The Defendant had a prior conviction for attempted assault, but the indictment did not identify the victim of her previous conviction for attempted assault as a family or household member. The court said that she could not have been convicted of a felony:

Upon review, we conclude that by pleading no contest to “domestic violence,” as charged in the indictment, Zumwalde essentially admitted to nothing more than a misdemeanor of the first degree absent the essential element that the prior conviction involved a family or household member. Although the indictment charges Zumwalde with having previously been convicted of Attempted Assault, it does not charge that the offense resulting in that conviction involved a victim who was a family or household member at the time of the offense; therefore, the allegations set forth in the indictment in the case before us state, at most, a misdemeanor offense.

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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.

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Ohio Supreme Court: Prosecutions’ Use of Autopsy Report Did Not Violate Confrontation Rights

The Ohio Supreme Court has held that the admission of an autopsy report into evidence at trial does not violate a defendant’s Sixth Amendment confrontation rights.

The case is State v. Maxwell, Slip Opinion No. 2014-Ohio-1019.

The Defendant had been sentenced to death for the murder of his girlfriend.

In 2005, the Defendant had assaulted his girlfriend.  She sought a protection order and was asked to testify before the grand jury.  The Defendant attempted to get her to change her story.  When she said that she had just told the truth, the Defendant told a friend, that “the bitch was going to make him kill her.”  He later shot her in view of her child.

A medical examiner with the Cuyahoga County coroner’s office, conducted the victim’s autopsy.  He concluded that she had died from gunshot wounds of the head and that the death was a homicide.

The defendant argued that his constitutional right of confrontation was violated when the court allowed another doctor, who did not conduct the autopsy, to testify about the autopsy results at the trial.

The Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause provides, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to be   confronted with the witnesses against him . . .”  This means that an out-of-court statement of a witness who does not appear at trial is in most circumstances prohibited.

The Confrontation clause applies only to “testimonial statements.”  Which are statements made under circumstances which would lead an objective witness reasonably to believe that the statement would be available for use at a later.

In this case, the court concluded that a substitute examiner, on direct examination, may at least testify as to his or her own expert opinions and conclusions regarding the autopsy and the victim’s death.   The court also concluded that an autopsy report was a no testimonial business record and that its admission did not impinge on a defendant’s confrontation rights.  The court explained:

Autopsy reports are not intended to serve as an “out-of-court substitute for trial testimony.” Instead, they are created “for the primary purpose of documenting cause of death for public records and public health.”  . . . .

Although autopsy reports are sometimes relevant in criminal prosecutions . . . they are not created primarily for a prosecutorial purpose.  . . . other courts have held that coroners are statutorily empowered to investigate unnatural deaths and authorized to perform autopsies in a number of situations, only one of which is when a death is potentially a homicide.

 

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Ohio Supreme Court Rules That Child-Enticement Statute is Unconstitutional.

The Ohio Supreme Court has held that Ohio’s child-enticement statute is unconstitutionally overbroad because it sweeps within its prohibitions a significant amount of constitutionally protected activity.

 

The case is State v. Romage, Slip Opinion No. 2014-Ohio-783.

 

The Defendant in this case was charged with criminal child enticement after he asked a child to carry some boxes to his apartment in exchange for money.

 

The Statute, R.C. 2905.05(A), provides:

 

No person, by any means and without privilege to do so, shall knowingly solicit, coax, entice, or lure any child under fourteen years of age to accompany the person in any manner, including entering into any vehicle or onto any vessel, whether or not the offender knows the age of the child, if both of the following apply:

(1) The actor does not have the express or implied permission of the parent, guardian, or other legal custodian of the child in undertaking the activity.

(2) The actor is not a law enforcement officer, medic, firefighter, or other person who regularly provides emergency services, and is not an employee or agent of, or a volunteer acting under the direction of, any board of education, or the actor is any of such persons, but, at the time the actor undertakes the activity, the actor is not acting within the scope of the actor’s lawful duties in that capacity.

 

A law can be found to be unconstitutional if it is so broadly written that it may have a deterrent effect on free expression.  The United States Supreme Court has held that for a statute to be facially invalid on overbreadth grounds, “there must be a realistic danger that the statute itself will significantly compromise recognized First Amendment protections of parties not before the Court.” Members of Los Angeles City Council v. Taxpayers for Vincent, 466 U.S. 789, 798, 104 S.Ct. 2118, 80 L.Ed.2d 772 (1984).

The Ohio Supreme Court observed that the purpose of the child enticement statute is to prevent child abductions or the commission of sexual acts with children. However, this admirable goal was not sufficient to save the statute.  The court wrote:

Certainly, the safety and general welfare of children is even more deserving of governmental protection. But a statute that defines criminal conduct should not include what is constitutionally protected activity. Even though the state has a legitimate and compelling interest in protecting children from abduction and lewd acts, a statute intended to promote legitimate goals that can be regularly and improperly applied to prohibit protected expression and activity is unconstitutionally overbroad. R.C. 2905.05(A) is such a statute. Although the statute uses the word “knowingly,” the word modifies “solicit.” The statute fails to require that the prohibited solicitation, coaxing, enticing, or luring occur with the intent to commit any unlawful act.

The court noted that many innocent acts would seem to fall under the language of the statute, including, “a primary-school coach offering to drive a team member home to retrieve a forgotten piece of practice equipment; a parent at a community facility offering to drive another’s child home so she does not have to walk; a senior citizen offering a 13-year-old neighborhood child money to help with household chores; a 14-year-old asking his 12-year-old friend to go for a bike ride.”

In summary, the court held that the statute was unconstitutional because “There is no requirement that the offender be aggressive toward the victim. One need not have intent to commit a crime.”

Justice French, dissenting, suggested that the word “solicit” in the statute could be read narrowly “with its neighboring operative verbs—‘coax, entice, or lure’” so that “one can reasonably find a more sinister connotation.”

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Ohio Supreme Court Suggests That People Living Together Are Couples for Purposes of Domestic Violence Statute

The Ohio Supreme Court has held that a boyfriend can be convicted of domestic violence for an assault on his live-in girlfriend, even where the state did not prove they shared living expenses.

The case is State v. McGlothan,  Slip Opinion No. 2014-Ohio-85.

In 2011, the defendant had been living in his girlfriend in her apartment for “about a year.” He slept overnight at her apartment every night and helped her put things up on the wall when he moved into the apartment.

The Defendant’s charges arose after an argument about where he had been earlier in the day. The Defendant pushed his girlfriend and grabbed her by the shirt, detaching a permanent tracheostomy tube which enabled her to breathe. They called 911 and the tube was re-inserted without surgery.  The girlfriend told the medical staff that “her boyfriend purposely pulled her trach out.”

The Defendant was found guilty of attempted felonious assault and domestic violence.  He was sentenced to two years in prison.

The issue in this case involved whether the state was required to prove that the couple shared any living expenses, such as rent and utilities, which would demonstrate shared familial or financial responsibilities in order for the domestic violence statute to apply.

The domestic violence statute provides, “No person shall knowingly cause or attempt to cause physical harm to a family or household member.”   A “family or household member” is defined to include spouses and “person living as a spouse,” which means someone who is cohabiting with a partner.

In a prior decision, the Ohio Supreme Court had explained that the offense of domestic violence “arises out of the relationship of the parties rather than their exact living circumstances,” State v. William. The domestic violence statute applied in this case because the defendant and his girlfriend “were not strangers but rather lived together and were in a relationship from which the domestic violence arose.”

Justice Lanzinger  dissented.  The Justice warned that “merely living in the same residence will satisfy the element of cohabitation for the domestic-violence statute.”  Justice French, joined by Justice O’Neill, also dissented.  Justice French suggested that “cohabitation requires proof that the offender and victim shared in either the ‘familial or financial’ responsibilities of the household.”

 

 

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Defendant Who Wins An Appeal Cannot Receive Harsher Sentence Motivated By Retaliation Or Vindictiveness

An Ohio Court of Appeals has held that a defendant who wins an appeal cannot then receive a harsher sentence motivated by retaliation or vindictiveness by the trial judge.

The case is State v. Seymour , 2014-Ohio-72.

In 2011, the defendant was sentenced to 13 years in prison after pleading guilty to seven counts in the Butler County Court of Common Pleas. The indictment included one count of domestic violence, one count of aggravated burglary, two counts of assault, one count of grand theft, one count of failure to comply with an order or signal of a police officer, and one count of violating a protection order.  The aggravated burglary conviction accounted for six years of that prison term.

The court of appeals reversed part of his sentence in 2012, holding that the domestic violence, aggravated burglary, and violating a protection order offenses were “allied offenses of similar import that should have been merged” for a single sentence.

The case was sent back to the Common Pleas Court for resentencing.  The state chose to proceed under the aggravated burglary charge.  The court imposed a seven year sentence on this count – one year more than the prior sentence.

The Defendant again appealed.  He alleged that the trial court violated his due process of law when, motivated by retaliation or vindictiveness for a defendant’s successful appeal, the court resentenced him to a harsher sentence.

The court of appeals agreed.  The court noted that there is a presumption that an enlarged sentence was the product of vindictiveness by the trial court.  The court explained:

Although a court may still impose an enhanced sentence on remand, it must demonstrate that the enhanced sentence was not motivated by vindictiveness toward the defendant for exercising his rights. Thus, in order to ensure that a nonvindictive rationale supports the enhanced sentence . . . whenever a judge imposes an increased sentence after a successful appeal, there is a presumption of vindictiveness that can be rebutted only by objective information in the record justifying the increased sentence.

In this case, the defendant was entitled to a new sentencing hearing because the same trial judge presided over both sentencing hearings, but failed to explain the rationale for the enhanced sentence. At the new hearing, if the trial court decides to impose a harsher sentence than the sentence imposed originally, then the trial court must affirmatively state the reasons for imposing the harsher sentence. Those reasons may come to the judge’s attention from a variety of ways, including a new presentence investigation, the defendant’s prison record, or other sources.

 

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Court of Appeals Vacates Rape Sentence. Firm Represented Defendant.

The Twelfth District Court of Appeals has vacated a twenty year rape sentence imposed on an elderly man.

Joshua Adam Engel represented the defendant in this appeal.

The case is State v. Stamper.

The Defendant pled guilty to three counts of rape in violation of R.C. 2907.02(A)(1)(c) (first-degree felonies).

In exchange for appellant’s guilty plea, the gross sexual imposition charge was merged, and appellant’s sentence upon conviction was to be “capped at 10 years per count, no life sentence.” At the time of the plea, the defendant was 74 years old.

Following a sentencing hearing, the trial court sentenced the defendant to ten years in prison on each count of rape, and ordered that two of the sentences be served consecutively, for an aggregate prison term of 20 years.

The Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court did not err in imposing maximum prison terms.  However, the found that the consecutive nature of the sentences was improperly imposed because the trial court did not make the required statutory findings on the record at sentencing.

The cases was sent back to the Butler County Common Pleas Court for a new sentencing hearing.

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ICYMI: The Ohio Constitution Provides Greater Protections to Criminal Defendants than the United States Constitution

Important read on Cincicrime Blog:  Ohio Constitution Provides Greater Protections to Criminal Defendants than the United States Constitution.

 

 

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Ohio Supreme Court: Confrontation Clause Does Not Require An Expert To Testify When Defendant Stipulates To Report

The Ohio Supreme Court has held that When a defendant has stipulated to the admissibility and content of a nontestifying analyst’s scientific report, the testimony of a witness who relied on that report does not violate the defendant’s right to

confrontation.

The case is State v. Keck,  Slip Opinion No. 2013-Ohio-5160.]

In 2009 the defendant was found guilty of rape, gross sexual imposition, pandering obscenity involving a minor, pandering obscenity to a minor, pandering sexually oriented matter involving a minor, illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented

material or performance, illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material or performance, and kidnapping.

An expert from the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation (“BCI”) had created a DNA profile for defendant and the alleged victims from buccal swabs.

The defendant’s attorney stipulated both the admissibility and content of the BCI expert’s report.  At trial, another BCI forensic scientist testified that she had used the known DNA profiles generated by the first expert to compare against the DNA profiles that she had generated from samples collected from other evidence in the case.

This case involves the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution.  The Sixth Amendment provides that “[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right * * * to be confronted with the witnesses against him * * *.”

In Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 124 S.Ct. 1354, 158 L.Ed.2d 177 (2004), the

the United States Supreme Court held that “testimonial statements” of a witness absent from trial can be admitted only where the declarant is unavailable and the defendant has had a prior opportunity to cross-examine.

In a later case, Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, 557 U.S. 305, 129 S.Ct. 2527, 174 L.Ed.2d 314 (2009), the Court held that a defendant was entitled to confront an expert who provided testimony about illegal drugs at trial.  Finally, in Williams v. Illinois, ___ U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. 2221, 183 L.Ed.2d 89 (2012), the Court the Confrontation Clause did not bar the use of out-of-court statements that are related by an expert solely for the purpose of explaining the assumptions on which the expert’s opinion rests.

The stipulation by the defendant was key in this case.  The Ohio Supreme Court held that by stipulating to the admissibility and content of the report, the defendant had waived any right to challenge the next expert’s reliance on it on the grounds that her testimony violated his right to confrontation.

The court further noted tat it “is especially revealing that, according to the record, the state was prepared and willing to call [the expert] to testify before [the defendant] agreed to the stipulation. It was thus [the defendant’s] own decision thatrendered [the] testimony unnecessary.”

 

 

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Ohio Supreme Court’s Tough Dissents

The Ohio Supreme Court has seen an apparent increase in harsh dissents from the Justices.

The Columbus Dispatch has noticed the trend.

The sharp words come from dissenting opinions of justices who disagree with the ruling arrived at by the majority on the seven-member court.

Most of these critiques start out pretty much the same: “I respectfully dissent …” But the dissenting opinions have included especially pointed language in several recent high-profile rulings.

Perhaps Justice Pfeiffer summed up the change:  “If I offend colleagues from time to time, you’re never going to hear me say I’m sorry. It goes with the territory.”

The cases highlighted include Pauley v. Circleville, Slip Opinion No. 2013-Ohio-4541.  That case involved injuries sustained by a chile while sledding in a city park.  Justice O’Neill dissented by suggesting that the city had created a “perfect killing field” by dumping debris in the park.

Another case was Freshwater v. Mt. Vernon City School Dist. Bd. of Edn., Slip Opinion No. 2013-Ohio-5000.  That case involved the firing of a teacher in a dispute about religious teaching in school.  Justice Pfeiffer in his dissent was sarcastically critical not only of the majority opinion, but also the plaintiffs and the lawyers.

My view: strong dissents have a long tradition in the law.  And they help non-lawyers understand the stakes in important cases that often turn on difficult and technical points of law.

 

 

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