COLUMBUS — Greene County prosecutors are looking for guidance from the Ohio Supreme Court in relation to prison sentences.
That request comes as part of an appeal of a Second District Court of Appeals ruling about a Fairborn woman’s case to the state’s highest court. That ruling said that Judge Michael Buckwalter, Greene County Common Pleas Court, erred in sentencing Charlene Hicks, 55, of Fairborn, to consecutive sentences in a 2015 case.
She pleaded guilty to five counts of theft from a disabled adult in January 2015 and was given maximum, consecutive sentences for each of the charges – for a total of 108 months in prison – in March 2015. In its ruling, the appeals court reversed the judgment and remanded the matter for the imposition of concurrent terms for the charges.
Hicks, who previously worked as a supervisor for Hope Homes in Fairborn, an organization which provides housing assistance and other services to disabled adults, reportedly stole approximately $75,000 from mentally and physically disabled adults under her supervision over a three-year period, according to court documents.
Judge Mary Donovan, Second District Court of Appeals, wrote in the majority opinion that “we clearly and convincingly find that the record does not support the imposition of consecutive sentences in the instant case,” noting Hicks’ lack of adult criminal history.
“In our view, by sentencing this 52-year-old, first-time, non-violent offender to nine years in prison, the trial court failed to reasonably consider the concept of rehabilitation…,” she wrote, with Judge Jeffrey Froelich concurring.
Judge Jeffrey Welbaum wrote a dissenting opinion, stating, “it is difficult to clearly and convincingly find that [the] record does not support the trial court’s consecutive sentencing findings.”
According to Greene County Prosecuting Attorney Stephen Haller, the appeal of the appellate judgment comes amidst a broader issue with sentencing throughout the state.
“A trial judge should have the discretion to, after hearing all the evidence, to impose either a concurrent or a consecutive sentence,” he said. “We’re looking for more definite guidelines from the Supreme Court so that the trial judge has guidance on how to exercise that discretion.”
Haller acknowledged the “push and pull” of longer sentences and an overcrowded prison system, but said, “It seems to me the local judge needs the discretion based upon his community and its values to impose the sentence that he or she thinks is appropriate.
“We’ve elected a judge to make a decision and that judge should have the discretion to do that,” he said. “I think we’re taking more and more discretion away from our trial judges.”
The state’s Supreme Court will decide on whether to accept jurisdiction of the case in coming months.