Criminal Appeal from Common Pleas Court Trial Court Case No. 2011-CR-3324.
MATHIAS H. HECK, JR., by R. LYNN NOTHSTINE, Atty. Reg. #0061560, Montgomery County Prosecutor's Office, Appellate Division, Montgomery County Courts Building, Attorney for Plaintiff-Appellant.
ANDREW ANASTASI, Atty Reg. #0088440, McClain Anastasi, L.L.C., Attorney for Defendant-Appellee.
CELEBREZZE, JR., J.
(¶1} Pursuant to R.C. 2945.67(A), the state of Ohio seeks review of the sentence imposed on appellee, Jas N. Presley, after being found guilty of leaving the scene of an accident. The state argues the trial court erred in finding that convicting Presley of a third-degree felony would constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. After a thorough review of the record and law, we agree with the state, but recognize that this court may not change Presley's conviction because to do so would violate principles of Double Jeopardy.
I. Factual and Procedural History
(¶2} On July 4, 2011, Presley was driving a car in a residential area. Tragically, a seven-year-old girl ran into the street in front of Presley's vehicle. He attempted to stop but was unable to stop in time and struck the girl, killing her. Presley's stop lasted only briefly. Mere moments after hitting the girl, Presley sped from the scene of the accident. Approximately thirty minutes after the accident, after talking with his mother, he turned himself in to the police. Presley was not intoxicated and was otherwise driving lawfully at the time of the accident. In statements made to the police, Presley admitted hitting the girl and leaving because he was shocked and scared. However, at trial he testified he was scared that he would be harmed by people who witnessed the accident and were rushing toward the car.
(¶3} Presley was indicted on one count of third-degree felony leaving the scene of an accident in violation of R.C. 4549.02. He waived a jury trial, and a bench trial commenced on August 27, 2012. Throughout trial, the court's unease with the case was apparent and, after closing arguments, the court sua sponte asked the parties for briefs regarding the constitutionality of R.C. 4549.02. After receiving briefs, the trial court issued a written decision finding that R.C. 4549.02(B) violated the Eighth Amendment because the elevation of the crime from a first-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony based solely on the fact that someone died as a result of the accident and not as a result of an individual's decision to leave the scene was impermissible. The trial court found Presley guilty of misdemeanor leaving the scene of an accident, but not the enhancing portion that made it a third-degree felony. The court then sentenced him to community control.
(¶4} The state sought leave to appeal the decision, which was granted by this court. The state seeks review of the following assigned error:
The trial court erred by ruling that R.C. 4549.02(B) violates the Eight Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
II. Law and Analysis
A. Cruel and Unusual Punishment
(¶5} R.C. 4549.02(A) provides,
In case of accident to or collision with persons or property upon any of the public roads or highways, due to the driving or operation thereon of any motor vehicle, the person driving or operating the motor vehicle, having knowledge of the accident or collision, immediately shall stop the driver's or operator's motor vehicle at the scene of the accident or collision and shall remain at the scene of the accident or collision until the driver or operator has given the driver's or operator's name and address and, if the driver or operator is not the owner, the name and address of the owner of that motor vehicle, together with the registered number of that motor vehicle, to any person injured in the accident or ...