SCOTUS Holds That The Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause Applies to the States

On February 20, 2019, the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Tyson Timbs v. Indiana, 586 U.S. ___ (2019), held that the Eighth Amendment’s excessive fines clause as contained in the United States Constitution is an incorporated protection applicable to the States under the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause.  The Court stated that the excessive fines clause (federal) protections is applicable to the States due to it being, “fundamental to our scheme of ordered liberty,” or “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.”  McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U.S. 742, 767 (2010). The Court went on to explain that if a Bill of Rights protection is incorporated, there is no daylight between the federal and state conduct it prohibits or requires.  Hence, they are the same.

This area of law is a common legal issue in criminal or civil forfeiture proceedings that typically follow  criminal prosecution for drug trafficking, cultivation, and possession of drugs.  In this case, Tyson Timbs plead guilty in Indiana state court to dealing drugs and was sentenced to one year of home detention and five years of probation.  Timbs was also required to pay fees and costs totaling $1,203.  At the time of his arrest, the police seized Timbs’ vehicle, a Land Rover SUV purchased for $42,000 with the money he received from his father’s life insurance policy.  The Supreme Court ultimately found that the protection against excessive fines guards against abuses of government’s punitive or criminal-law-enforcement authority.

In arriving at their decision, the Court looked, in part, at the historical development (1600-1800) of “fines” and English law.  The Court found that the prohibition embodied in the excessive fines clause carries forward protections found in sources from the Magna Carta (1215) to the English Bill of Rights (1689) to state constitutions from the colonial era to the present day.  The Supreme Court noted that the protection against excessive fines has been a constant shield throughout Anglo-American history because such fines undermine other liberties.  They can be used to retaliate against or chill the speech of political enemies.  Browning-Ferris Industries of Vt., Inc. v. Kelco Disposal, Inc., 492 U.S. 257, 263, 267 (1989).  They can also be used as a source of revenue, rather than for legitimate penal purposes.  See also, Austin v. United States, 509 U.S. 602 (1993); Packingham v. North Carolina, 582 U.S. ___ (2017).

Ohio Supreme Court Upholds Law That Requires Persons With Knowledge of Their HIV+ Status to Disclose to Another Prior to Engaging in Sex

In October 2017, the Supreme Court of Ohio in the case of State of Ohio v. (Orlando) Batista (2017), 151 Ohio St.3d 584, 2017-Ohio-8304, held that because ORC Section 2903.11(B)(1) — criminal felonious assault — regulates conduct, not speech, it does not violate the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and it is rationally related to the State’s legitimate interest in preventing the transmission of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) to sexual partners who may not be aware of the risk and, therefore, does not violate the Equal Protection Clauses of either the United States or Ohio Constitutions.

Defendant Batista maintained that ORC 2903.11(B)(1), which prohibits those persons with knowledge of their HIV status from engaging in sexual conduct with another person without disclosing that knowledge to the other person prior to engaging in the sexual conduct was a content based regulation that compels speech in violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.  Batista also contended that the statute violated the Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 2 of the Ohio Constitution because there was no rational basis for a distinction between HIV positive individuals and individuals with other infectious diseases, such as Hepatitis C or between the methods of transmitting HIV.

The State of Ohio argued that the felonious assault statute prohibits only uninformed sexual conduct and any effect this prohibition has on speech is incidental.  The State further argued that the statute is narrowly tailored to that interest (preventing spread of HIV) because it neither prohibits an infected person from having sexual relations with another, nor compels public disclosure of a person’s HIV positive status.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court of Ohio held that although ORC 2903.11(B)(1) requires those who know they are HIV positive to disclose their status if they choose to engage in sexual conduct with another person, that the disclosure is incidental to the statute’s regulation of the targeted conduct.  Thus, the statute regulates conduct, not speech, and therefore does not violate the First Amendment right to free speech.

The Court also held that the federal Equal Protection Clause does not forbid classification, but it requires that different treatment be related to the purpose of the law and because there is some conceivable basis to support the legislative arrangement, the statute does not violate equal protection.  The Court further stated, “we cannot say that there is no plausible policy reason for the classification or that the relationship between the classification and the policy goal renders it arbitrary or irrational.”

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.

Fundamentally Unfair To Treat Juvenile Adjudications As A Previous Conviction

In State v. Hand (2016), 149 Ohio St.3d 94, 2016-Ohio-5504, 73 N.E.3d 448, 2016 Ohio LEXIS 2106, the Supreme Court of Ohio in August 2016 held that using a juvenile’s previous delinquency adjudication to count as a previous “conviction” in order to enhance the charging offense or sentence in a subsequent adult criminal proceeding violated the Due Process Clauses of the Ohio Constitution, Article I, Section 16, and the United States Constitution, Fourteenth Amendment.  The Court further held that it was fundamentally unfair to treat a juvenile adjudication as a previous conviction for a subsequent criminal offense committed as a juvenile because juveniles were not afforded the right to a jury trial.

Consistently, the Supreme Court of Ohio has acknowledged that juvenile courts hold a unique place in our legal system.  Namely, that the overriding purposes for juvenile dispositions are to provide for the care, protection, mental and physical development of children, protect the public interest and safety, hold the offender accountable for the offender’s actions, restore the victim, and rehabilitate the offender.  (See Ohio Revised Code, Chapter 2152.)  In contrast, the purposes of adult felony sentencing are to protect the public from future crime by the offender and others, and to punish the offender.  (See ORC, Section 2929.11 (A).)  In summary, juvenile adjudication differs from criminal sentencing — one is civil and rehabilitative, the other is criminal and punitive.

Previously, in 2000, the United States Supreme Court in the case of Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466, 120 S.Ct. 2348, 147 L.Ed.2d 435 (2000), determined that other than the fact of a prior conviction, any fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury, and proved beyond a reasonable doubt.  The U.S. Supreme Court demanded no less of state statutes, such as the Ohio Revised Code.  A prior “conviction” must itself have been established through procedures satisfying the fair notice, reasonable doubt, and jury guarantees.  Consequently, the proper inquiry under Apprendi is not simply whether juvenile adjudications are deemed to be reliable, but whether the juveniles were afforded the right to a jury trial.

In Hand, the Supreme Court of Ohio also reasoned that the right to a jury trial is no mere procedural formality, but a fundamental reservation of power in our constitutional structure.  Furthermore, that the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments guarantee a jury standing between a defendant and the power of the State, and they guarantee a jury’s finding of the disputed fact essential to increase the ceiling of a potential sentence.  That is, the jury trial right is primarily focused on preventing the State (prosecution) from drawing conclusions from the facts without using a jury.  The Court concluded that because a juvenile “adjudication” is not established through a procedure that provides the right to a jury trial, it cannot be used to increase a sentence beyond the statutory maximum or mandatory minimum.

Accordingly, it is contradictory and fundamentally unfair to allow juvenile adjudications that result from these less formal civil proceedings to be characterized as criminal convictions that may later enhance adult punishment for a subsequent adult criminal offense.  Ultimately, the Supreme Court of Ohio in Hand held that treating a juvenile adjudication as an adult conviction to enhance a sentence for a later crime is inconsistent with Ohio’s system for juveniles, which is predicated on the fact that children are not as culpable for their acts as adults and should be rehabilitated rather than punished.  Under Apprendi, using a prior conviction to enhance a sentence does not violate the constitutional right to due process, because the prior process involved the right to a jury trial.  Juveniles, however, are not afforded the right to a jury trial.  Quite simply, a juvenile adjudication is not a conviction of a crime and should not be treated as one.