Imposing Separate Sentences For Allied Offenses of Similar Import is Contrary to Law and Void

In November 2016, the Supreme Court of Ohio in the case of State v. Williams (2016), 148 Ohio St. 3d 403, 2016-Ohio-7658, 71 N.E.3d 234, 2016 Ohio LEXIS 2782, held that the imposition of separate sentences for guilty findings in regard to allied offenses of similar import was contrary to law and the sentences were void on the face of the judgement of conviction.  In Williams, the State of Ohio elected to have the defendant sentenced on the aggravated murder as charged in count three, and the trial court had no discretion to impose separate sentences on counts one and two.

The Court stated that a trial court only has authority to impose a sentence that conforms to law, and Ohio Revised Code Section 2941.25 prohibits the imposition of multiple sentences for allied offenses of similar import.  Relying upon State v. Whitfield (2010), 124 Ohio St.3d 319, 2010-Ohio-2, 922 N.E.2d 182, the Court stated that the trial court should permit the State to select the allied offense to proceed on for purposes of imposing sentence and the trial court should impose sentence for only that offense.  The Court further held that imposing separate sentences for allied offenses of similar import is contrary to law and such sentences are void.  Also, that res judicata does not preclude a court from correcting those sentences after a direct appeal.

The Supreme Court of Ohio also relied upon State v. Holmes (2014), 8th Dist. No.100388, 2014-Ohio-3816, which held that once a trial court determines that two offenses are allied and are subject to merger, the trial court acts without authority when it imposes a sentence on both offenses.  Thus, acting without authority renders the sentence void.  The Court also relied on State v. Underwood (2010), 124 Ohio St.3d 365, 2010-Ohio-1, 922 N.E.2d 923, wherein it explained that trial courts have a mandatory duty to merge allied offenses, that imposition of concurrent sentences for allied offenses is not authorized by law, and that an offender is prejudiced by having more convictions than authorized by statute.

The determination of whether an accused may be convicted and sentenced for multiple offenses is dependent upon whether:  (1) the offenses are dissimilar in import or significance — in other words, each offense caused separate, identifiable harm; (2) the offenses were committed separately; or (3) the offenses were committed with separate animus (intention, ill will) or motivation.  State v. Ruff (2015), 143 Ohio St.3d 114, 2015-Ohio-995, 34 N.E.3d 892.  Furthermore, that under Ohio Revised Code Section 2941.25, the merger doctrine prohibits the imposition of multiple sentences.  And when the trial court disregards statutory mandates, principles of res judicata, including the doctrine of the law of the case, do not preclude appellate review at any time on direct appeal or by collateral attack.  The Court also recognized that a resentencing hearing limited to correcting the void sentence is a proper remedy for a trial court’s failure to comply with mandatory sentencing laws.  See State v. Fischer (2010), 128 Ohio St.3d 92, 2010-Ohio-6238, 942 N.E.2d 332.

In contrast, however, the Court also cited State v, Rogers (2015), 143 Ohio St.3d 385, 2015-Ohio-2459, 38 N.E.3d 860, which states that an accused’s failure to raise the issue of allied offenses of similar import in the trial court forfeits all but plain error and that a forfeited error is not reversible error unless it affected the outcome of the proceeding and reversal is necessary to correct a manifest miscarriage of justice.

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