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State v. Stutler

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Fifth District, Stark

April 24, 2018

STATE OF OHIO Plaintiff-Appellee
v.
JEREMY STUTLER Defendant-Appellant

          Appeal from the Stark County Court of Common Pleas, Case No. 2011- CR-1169.

          For Plaintiff-Appellee JOHN D. FERRERO Prosecuting Attorney By: KATHLEEN O. TATARSKY, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Appellate Section.

          For Defendant-Appellant MICHAEL A. PARTLOW.

          JUDGES: Hon. John W. Wise, P.J. Hon. W. Scott Gwin, J. Hon. Craig R. Baldwin, J.

          OPINION

          BALDWIN, J.

         {¶1} Appellant, Jeremy Stutler, appeals the May 10, 2017 decision of the Stark County Court of Common Pleas denying his request for Level IV privileges pursuant to R.C. 2945.401. Appellee is the state of Ohio.

         STATEMENT OF FACTS AND THE CASE

         {¶2} Appellant was charged with murder in 2011, and found not guilty by reason of insanity in the Stark County Court of Common Pleas. The trial court committed appellant to Twin Valley Behavioral Healthcare, a maximum security mental health facility. In January of 2014, appellant was transferred to Northcoast Behavioral Healthcare.

         {¶3} A similar request was considered by this Court in 2015. On February 2, 2015, Dr. Joy Stankowski, M.D., the Chief Clinical Officer of Northcoast Behavioral Healthcare authored a letter requesting appellant be granted Level IV medical privileges for community trips with staff/case manager supervision.

         {¶4} The State requested a second opinion from Dr. Arcangela Wood, a psychologist and the Director of Psycho-Diagnostic Clinic of Akron. Dr. Wood opined it would be reasonable for Appellant to be granted Level IV privileges; however, she listed a number of conditions at the end of the letter necessary for the granting of said privileges. Both parties stipulated to the reports at the May 4, 2015 hearing.

         {¶5} Following the hearing on May 4, 2015, the trial court denied the request for a change to Level IV privileges via Judgment Entry of May 8, 2015. We agreed "*** with the reasoning set forth in Hubbard, supra, and [found] a trial court retains discretion to deny a request for increased privileges even if the evidence in opposition to the requested modification presented by the state does not rise to the level of clear and convincing evidence." State v. Stutler, 5th Dist. No. 2015CA00099, 2015-Ohio-5518, ¶ 13. We concluded that the trial court had not abused its discretion and affirmed the trial court's decision.

         {¶6} On January 27, 2017, Dr. Stankowski delivered a letter to the Stark County Common Pleas Court with an Application for Level IV Privileges, completed by Sara G. West, M.D., attached.[1] "The purpose of this report is to request an advancement in movement for Mr. Stutler, from Level III and Level IV medical, to Level III and Level IV medical and community." The record does not clearly describe the distinction between the two levels, though it is clear that there are fewer restrictions on Level IV and the intent was to allow the appellant supervised "off ground trips that are therapeutic" as well as "other appropriate events." After reviewing records and information provided to her, Dr. West stated "[i]t is my opinion with reasonable medical certainty that, in consideration of public safety and Mr. Stutler's liberty interests, the least restrictive setting for Mr. Stutler's treatment is continued hospitalization at Northcoast Behavioral Healthcare with advancement to Level IV community privileges."

         {¶7} On February 24, 2017 the court ordered appellant to submit to an examination by the Psycho-Diagnostic Clinic. On April 27, 2017, Arcangela S. Wood, Psy .D. of the Psycho-Diagnostic Clinic submitted a comprehensive 30 page report after meeting with appellant for 90 minutes on March 21, 2017. She was aware of the plan to allow appellant Level IV privileges in the community and she approved the plan contingent upon adoption of several conditions to protect public safety. She also concluded that the risk of Mr. Stutler's committing any future violent acts was moderate, and that appellant would experience stress with the transition of going on supervised outings in the community and with increased contact with community members.

         {¶8} The trial court conducted a hearing pursuant to R.C. 2945.401(D) on May 4, 2017. The aforementioned reports were submitted to the court and the testimony of Dr. Wood, Dr. West and appellant was presented to the court. At the conclusion of the hearing the court denied the request for Level IV privileges concluding in its entry of May 10, 2017 that "The Court is not convinced in this short time that improvement has advanced enough to Level IV Privileges." (Trial Court Entry, page 6). Appellant filed a notice of appeal on June 9, 2017 and submitted two assignments of error:

         {¶9} I. THE TRIAL COURT'S DETERMINATION THAT APPELLANT SHOULD BE DENIED A CHANGE TO LEVEL IV-COMMUNITY PRIVILEGES IS NOT SUPPORTED BY CLEAR AND CONVINCING EVIDENCE.

         {¶10} II. THE TRIAL COURT HAD NO DISCRETION TO DENY THE LEVEL CHANGE REQUESTED IN THE ABSENCE OF CLEAR AND CONVINCING EVIDENCE INDICATING THAT THE LEVEL CHANGE SHOULD NOT BE GRANTED.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         {¶11} We review the trial court's decision for an abuse of discretion.

The nature and conditions of the insanity acquittee's confinement are a determination which lies within the sound discretion of the trial court. State v. Johnson (1987), 32 Ohio St.3d 109, 112, 512 N.E.2d 652, 655-656. The trial court may choose to reject the recommendations of both the state and the acquittee and order the acquittee to a more secure setting without abusing its discretion. State v. Gladding (1991), 72 Ohio App.3d 16, 21, 593 N.E.2d 415, 417-418. Furthermore, the court does not abuse its discretion by rejecting the recommendation of the hospital caring for the acquittee; rather, the court is ...

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