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State v. Thomason

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eleventh District, Ashtabula

September 5, 2017

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
JENNIFER L. THOMASON, Defendant-Appellant.

         Criminal Appeal from the Ashtabula County Court of Common Pleas, Case No. 2013 CR 00156.

          Nicholas A. Iarocci, Ashtabula County Prosecutor, and Shelley M. Pratt, (For Plaintiff-Appellee).

          Richard E. Hackerd, (For Defendant-Appellant).



         {¶1} Appellant, Jennifer L. Thomason, appeals from the judgment of the Ashtabula County Court of Common Pleas, based on a jury verdict, finding her guilty of aggravated possession of drugs, and illegal assembly or possession of chemicals for the manufacture of drugs, and sentencing her to a total term of five years imprisonment. Appellant contends her trial counsel was ineffective for failing to move to suppress the evidence against her, and that her convictions are premised on insufficient evidence, and are against the manifest weight of the evidence. We affirm.

         {¶2} On March 5, 2015, Detective Sean Ward of the Ashtabula County Sheriffs Department received an email tip that Josh Hall was engaged in the manufacture of methamphetamine at the Motel 6 in Harpersfield Township, Ashtabula County, Ohio. Detective Ward contacted Detective George Cleveland. The detectives went to the motel, and spoke with the desk clerk, who told them that Mr. Hall had rented two rooms on the second floor, and that an associate of his had rented one on the first floor. She further advised that Mr. Hall had checked out. She gave the detectives a pass key card, which they used to explore the first floor room, No. 124, which had some personal items in it, but no signs of methamphetamine manufacture. They proceeded to the second floor and checked one of Mr. Hall's former rooms, No. 227, which they found empty.

         {¶3} Finally, the detectives went to Room No. 228. The pass key card opened the door, but it was latched from inside. Upon identifying themselves, a woman (appellant), asked them to wait while she got dressed. The detectives waited three to five minutes, hearing shuffling noises in the room, before Appellant opened the door and came out into the hallway. She and Detective Ward moved a few feet down the hallway to talk.

         {¶4} Detective Cleveland remained at the door. He saw a man sitting on one of the beds in the room, and asked the man, Michael Dixon, to come to the door. The detective informed him of the complaint, and asked to see his identification. While Mr. Dixon retrieved the identification, Detective Cleveland smelled the odor of methamphetamine emanating from the room. Detective Cleveland, while a member of the Ashtabula County Sheriffs Department, was also assigned to a task force of the United States Drug Enforcement Agency in Cleveland, acting as the county liaison. He has investigated more than 100 methamphetamine labs. Detective Cleveland followed Mr. Dixon into the room, and spotted two Mason jars on the floor, one filled with clear liquid. This was later identified as a methamphetamine precursor. He also spotted a gray back pack. The detective testified at trial that the elements of methamphetamine labs are often disassembled and transported in backpacks.

         {¶5} Mr. Dixon and appellant were arrested. Detective Cleveland contacted the local fire department to come ventilate the room; put on his protective gear; and began processing the scene, finding the equipment and elements for manufacturing methamphetamine. After he took Mr. Dixon and appellant downstairs, Detective Ward put on his protective gear, and joined the search. The detectives later took certain evidence from Room No. 221, which had also been rented by Mr. Hall, when advised by cleaning staff the room contained suspicious items. They also found equipment relating to the operation of a methamphetamine lab in a locked box in Mr. Dixon's truck.

         {¶6} On April 2, 2015, appellant was indicted on three counts. The first was for illegal manufacture of drugs, in violation of R.C. 2925.04, a first-degree felony; the second was for aggravated possession of drugs, in violation of R.C. 2925.11, a second-degree felony; the third was for illegal assembly or possession of chemicals for the manufacture of drugs, in violation of R.C. 2925.04, a second-degree felony. Appellant pleaded not guilty to all charges. Plea negotiations failed. A jury trial commenced January 4, 2016, and concluded the following day. On appellant's Crim.R. 29 motion, the trial court dismissed the first count of the indictment. The trial court further dismissed a specification in the third count, alleging the criminal activity therein had occurred in the vicinity of a juvenile or school, reducing the third count to a third degree felony.

         {¶7} The jury subsequently found appellant guilty on the second and third counts of the indictment. A sentencing hearing went forward on March 1, 2016. By a judgment entry filed March 7, 2016, the trial court sentenced appellant to three years imprisonment on the second count, and five years imprisonment on the third count, that term being mandatory. The trial court further assessed court costs, but waived the mandatory fine attached to the third count, informed appellant she would be subject to three years post release control, and suspended her driver's license for six months.

         {¶8} Appellant timely noticed this appeal, assigning three errors. The first provides:

         {¶9} "Defendant-appellant was denied the effective assistance of counsel as guaranteed by the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section X of the Ohio Constitution where his [sic] counsel failed to file a motion to suppress."

         {¶10} Appellant contends she was prejudiced by counsel's failure to file a motion to suppress evidence based upon the warrantless entry into the hotel room in which she and the contraband were found.

         {¶11} To establish ineffective assistance of counsel, appellant must show that counsel's actions fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and that appellant was prejudiced as a result. Strickland v. Washington,466 U.S. 668, 687-88, 693 (1984). Prejudice occurs where there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, the result of the trial would have been different. Id. at 694. When the ineffective assistance claim is predicated upon the failure to submit a motion to suppress particular evidence, "'an appellant must point to evidence in the record showing there was a reasonable probability the result of [the] trial would have differed if the motion had been filed or pursued.'" State v. Woodard, 11th Dist. Ashtabula No. 2009-A-0047, 2010-Ohio-2949, ¶14, quoting State v. Gaines, 11th Dist. Lake Nos. 2006-L-059 and 2006-L-060, 2007-Ohio-1375, ¶17. "Hence, to establish prejudice, an appellant must prove more than a mere possibility that the motion ...

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