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State v. Sari

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eleventh District, Lake

May 22, 2017

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
JESSICA M. SARI, Defendant-Appellant.

         Criminal Appeal from the Lake County Court of Common Pleas. Case No. 2016 CR 000170.

          Charles E. Coulson, Lake County Prosecutor, and Anna C. Kelley, Assistant Prosecutor, (For Plaintiff-Appellee).

          Kevin M. Cafferkey, (For Defendant-Appellant).

          OPINION

          TIMOTHY P. CANNON, J.

         {¶1} Appellant, Jessica M. Sari, appeals from the judgment of the Lake County Court of Common Pleas sentencing her to a prison term of eleven years; ordering her to pay restitution in the amount of $12, 608.20, jointly and severally with her co-defendants; and imposing a mandatory fine of $7, 500.00. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         {¶2} On February 2, 2016, an affidavit on complaint was issued in the Painesville Municipal Court alleging Ms. Sari had illegally conveyed prohibited items onto the grounds of a detention facility. Ms. Sari was 22 years old at the time of the offense and was being held at the Lake County Jail for a misdemeanor petty theft offense. Ms. Sari was subsequently bound over to the Lake County Court of Common Pleas on the charge.

         {¶3} On June 2, 2016, Ms. Sari was indicted by the Lake County Grand Jury on three counts: Count One, Illegal Conveyance of Drugs of Abuse onto the Grounds of a Detention Facility, in violation of R.C. 2921.36(A)(2), a felony of the third degree; and Counts Two and Three, Corrupting Another with Drugs, in violation of R.C. 2925.02(A)(3), felonies of the second degree.

         {¶4} Ms. Sari entered into a plea agreement with appellee, the state of Ohio. At Ms. Sari's plea hearing on August 11, 2016, the indictment was amended by agreement of the parties to reflect that imposition of a prison sentence is mandatory for Counts Two and Three.

         {¶5} At the plea hearing, the prosecution stated the evidence would have shown, had the matter proceeded to trial, that on or about December 21, 2015, Ms. Sari did knowingly convey onto the grounds of the Lake County Jail, a detention facility, a drug of abuse, that being heroin, and did knowingly by any means, administer or furnish to another, or induce or cause another to use a controlled substance and thereby caused serious physical harm to the other person or caused them to be drug dependent.

         {¶6} Specifically, the prosecution stated Ms. Sari and her co-defendants, Michael Beachler and Christine Martin, formulated a plan to bring heroin into the Lake County Jail when appellant was released for a medical furlough. Christine, who was also being held at the Lake County Jail, placed several phone calls to a friend outside of jail between December 10 and December 17, 2015. Christine arranged for that friend to send a $200.00 money order to Michael, who was Ms. Sari's boyfriend at the time. On December 19, 2015, Ms. Sari spoke to Michael on the phone several times regarding the $200.00 and a transaction involving someone they referred to as "Hood." Ms. Sari was released from the jail on a medical furlough on December 21, 2015. Michael and his step-father picked up Ms. Sari from the jail, took her to her medical appointment, and returned her to the jail. Before Ms. Sari was booked into the jail, she concealed heroin inside her vagina. The heroin was then distributed to several other inmates, including Christine and Kristi Ellis; neither Christine nor Ms. Sari have specifically accepted responsibility for distributing the heroin to Kristi, but neither of them dispute that Kristi received a portion. The next day, December 22, 2015, Kristi was found deceased in her jail cell, and Christine was found unresponsive and required hospitalization after she was revived with Narcan.

         {¶7} Ms. Sari orally admitted she was guilty of Count One and Amended Count Two. The parties also agreed that Amended Count Two would include both victims, Kristi and Christine. With approval of the parties, the trial court made a handwritten notation on the written plea of guilty under Amended Count Two that states, "including victim from Ct. 3." The state agreed to move to dismiss Amended Count Three at the time of sentencing and stated it would be recommending the maximum prison term for Count One and Amended Count Two.

         {¶8} The trial court found Ms. Sari's guilty plea was knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily made. The trial court accepted the plea and found Ms. Sari guilty of Count One and Amended Count Two; Amended Count Three would be dismissed upon completion of sentencing.

         {¶9} The matter was referred to the Lake County Adult Probation Department for preparation of a presentence investigation report ("PSI"), a drug and alcohol evaluation, and to obtain the necessary victim impact statement.

         {¶10} Ms. Sari filed a sentencing memorandum in mitigation of her sentence. The memorandum discussed her genuine remorse, as Kristi had been a good friend of hers even outside the jail setting. It also discussed Ms. Sari's lack of a prior felony record or history of violence; her record includes only misdemeanors "consistent with a drug addict, " ranging from possession of marijuana to petty theft. The memorandum also discussed a troublesome family history: when Ms. Sari was 15 years old, her father passed away from an accidental overdose of prescription methadone while she was asleep in an adjoining room of the house; not long before that, Ms. Sari was allegedly sexually abused by a carnival worker who was later imprisoned on similar charges brought by Ms. Sari's friend. The memorandum also mentioned Ms. Sari's extensive drug addiction history, beginning at an early age, which culminated in the daily use of heroin for over four years before her arrest. It also referenced Ms. Sari's complete psychiatric assessment developed by Dr. Amy Ginsberg, a forensic/clinical psychologist, and the statement made by a psychologist at the Lake County Psychiatric Clinic in her drug and alcohol evaluation report that Ms. Sari "needs extensive help" with her drug addiction. Finally, the memorandum discussed the sentences received by her co-defendants: Michael pled guilty to Illegal Conveyance and received 30 months in prison; Christine pled guilty to Illegal Conveyance and Attempted Corrupting Another with Drugs and received 7 years in prison. It further stated that a review of some of the similar cases throughout Ohio shows a range of sentences between 2 and 8 years, most of which involve manslaughter convictions. News articles covering these similar cases and Dr. Ginsberg's psychological assessment were attached to the memorandum. In its conclusion, the memorandum stated, "[t]he defendant and her attorneys asks [sic] this Honorable Court to consider a sentence similar to Christine Martin."

         {¶11} At Ms. Sari's sentencing hearing on September 22, 2016, the trial court heard from defense counsel on her behalf. They spoke extensively about the tragedy of her father's death and Ms. Sari's extensive struggle with drug addiction as a result. They also outlined Dr. Ginsberg's psychological assessment, which diagnosed Ms. Sari with major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and five different severe drug disorders (opioids, sedatives, alcohol, stimulants, and cannabis). They read into the record a portion of Dr. Ginsberg's report:

From a psychological perspective, the above-mentioned factors constitute mitigating factors. It is my opinion that these factors warrant considerable consideration, at least with respect to the mitigation of the penalty for the alleged current offenses, especially given that these offenses are directly related to her mental health disorders, major depression and PTSD, as well as substance abuse issues.

         {¶12} The trial court then heard from Ms. Sari's mother and sister. Ms. Sari also spoke on her own behalf, stating she was nine months sober at the time of the hearing. She acknowledged her fault for what happened and expressed remorse and guilt; she stated she experiences night terrors as a result of Kristi's death. Ms. Sari told the court she wants to better herself and utilize the available drug programs while in prison.

         {¶13} The state outlined its position regarding aggravating sentencing factors, and Kristi's sister gave a victim impact statement on behalf of herself, Kristi's mother, and Kristi's five-year-old daughter.

         {¶14} Defense counsel, in response to the trial court's inquiry, agreed he was requesting that the court impose a total prison term of 9 years. He stated Glenbeigh, a residential drug treatment facility, is willing and able to provide Ms. Sari with a place to stay when she is released. The state recommended the maximum prison term of 11 years, stating, in part, that "a message must be sent in cases like this that bringing drugs into our jail will not be tolerated here in Lake County."

         {¶15} The trial court stated it had reviewed the PSI, the victim impact statement, the drug and alcohol evaluation, the psychological evaluation, his conference in chambers with counsel and the probation department, and the statements of Ms. Sari and her counsel.

         {¶16} After a lengthy statement on the record regarding sentencing factors, discussed further below, the trial court sentenced Ms. Sari to the maximum term of imprisonment: three years on Count One and eight years mandatory on Amended Count Two, to be served consecutive to each other, for a total term of eleven years. The trial court also ordered Ms. Sari to pay restitution in the amount of $12, 608.20, jointly and severally with Michael and Christine, and a mandatory fine of $7, 500.00. The judgment of sentence was entered on September 28, 2016.

         {¶17} Ms. Sari noticed a timely appeal and raises four assignments of error for our review, all of which relate to the imposition of her sentence:

[1.] The trial court incorrectly analyzed the aggravating and mitigating factors set forth in R.C. 2929.12 and then imposed a sentence based on findings that were not supported by the record.
[2.] The trial court erred by imposing consecutive sentences when the court's findings were not supported by the record.
[3.] The trial court failed to adequately ensure that its total sentence was proportionate to sentences being given to similarly situated offenders who have committed similar offenses, particularly the accomplices in this case.
[4.] The trial court erred in imposing a mandatory fine.

         {¶18} R.C. 2953.08(G) sets forth the standard of review for all Ohio felony sentencing appeals. It states, in pertinent part, that an "appellate court may increase, reduce, or otherwise modify a sentence that is appealed under this section or may vacate the sentence and remand the matter to the sentencing court for resentencing * * * if it clearly and convincingly finds * * * (b) that the sentence is otherwise contrary to law." R.C. 2953.08(G)(2); see also State v. Marcum, 146 Ohio St.3d 516, 2016-Ohio- 1002, ¶10, and State v. Hettmansperger, 11th Dist. Ashtabula No. 2014-A-0006, 2014- Ohio-4306, ¶14. Thus, an appellate court will not reverse a felony sentence unless it clearly and convincingly finds that the record does not support the trial court's findings. State v. Venes, 8th Dist. Cuyahoga No. 98682, 2013-Ohio-1891, ¶21.

         Sentencing ...


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