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State v. Wheaton

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Second District, Montgomery

April 27, 2018

STATE OF OHIO Plaintiff-Appellee
v.
DASHAWNDA WHEATON Defendant-Appellant

          Criminal Appeal from Municipal Court Trial Court Case No. 2017-TRD-961

          TROY B. DANIELS, Atty. Reg. No. 0084957, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Attorney for Plaintiff-Appellee.

          THADDEUS HOFFMEISTER, Atty. Reg. No. 0081977, Attorney for Defendant-Appellant.

          OPINION

          WELBAUM, P.J.

         {¶ 1} This case is before us on the appeal of Defendant-Appellant, Dashawnda Wheaton, from her convictions and sentences on charges of Operating a Motor Vehicle Without a Valid License, Leaving the Scene of an Accident, and Failure to Control.

         {¶ 2} According to Wheaton, the trial court should have granted her motion for acquittal because the State did not prove that she failed to maintain reasonable control over her vehicle. Wheaton further contends that the conviction for failing to maintain reasonable control was against the manifest weight of the evidence because a trier of fact would have to suspend a belief in basic physics to conclude that the accident occurred as the State claimed. In addition, Wheaton argues that the trial court failed to properly examine witness credibility. Finally, Wheaton maintains that the State did not prove that she failed to furnish necessary information before leaving the scene of the accident.[1]

         {¶ 3} For the reasons discussed below, we conclude that Wheaton's convictions are supported by sufficient evidence and are not against the manifest weight of the evidence. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court will be affirmed.

         I. Facts and Course of Proceedings

         {¶ 4} On December 27, 2016, Wheaton was driving a black Chevrolet Impala home from the grocery store when she became involved in an accident. The Impala belonged to another person and Wheaton did not have a drivers' license. After the accident occurred, Wheaton provided some information to the other driver, but left the scene before the police arrived. She did so because she was afraid she would be arrested for driving without a license.

         {¶ 5} The Impala had a temporary tag, but the last number was missing. Ultimately, a police detective was able to trace the vehicle by using different databases, and ordered the vehicle's owner to come in for questioning. The owner then notified Wheaton, who called the detective and came in to see him. Wheaton did not dispute that she had been driving without a license, but contended that she was not at fault for the accident. At the meeting, the detective cited Wheaton for Operating a Motor Vehicle Without a Valid License in violation of R.C. 4510.12; Driving a Vehicle While Under F.R.A. Suspension, in violation of R.C. 4510.16; Failure to Control, in violation of Dayton Code of Ordinances ("D.C.O.") 71.1802; and Hit Skip, in violation of R.C. 4549.02.

         {¶ 6} A bench trial occurred on March 28, 2017, after which the court found Wheaton guilty of all offenses other than the charge involving the F.R.A. suspension, which the State had dismissed prior to trial. The court then sentenced Wheaton to 180 days and a $250 fine for the Hit Skip, with the entire sentence and fine suspended; a class five license suspension, fifty hours of community service, one year of non-reporting community control; $150 for the Failure to Control, with the fine suspended, and 180 days in jail and a $250 fine for Operating a Motor Vehicle Without a Valid License, with both the jail time and the fine suspended. Wheaton timely appealed from the trial court's decision.

         II. Sufficiency and Weight of the Evidence

         {¶ 7} Wheaton's first two assignments of error are interrelated and will be considered together. These assignments of error are as follows:

The Trial Court Wrongfully Denied Appellant's Rule 29 Motion for Acquittal Because the Evidence Provided by the State Was Insufficient to Prove the Appellant Did Not Maintain Reasonable Control of Her Vehicle, and;
The Guilty Verdict Was Against the Manifest Weight of the Evidence.

         {¶ 8} Under these assignments of error, Wheaton contends that the trial court should have granted her motion for acquittal because the State did not prove that she failed to maintain reasonable control over her vehicle. She further contends that the conviction for failing to maintain reasonable control was against the manifest weight of the evidence because the trier of fact would have had to suspend a belief in basic physics to conclude that the accident occurred as the State claimed. In addition, Wheaton argues that the trial court failed to properly examine witness credibility.

         {¶ 9} "A sufficiency of the evidence argument disputes whether the State has presented adequate evidence on each element of the offense to allow the case to go to the jury or sustain the verdict as a matter of law." State v. Wilson, 2d Dist. Montgomery No. 22581, 2009-Ohio-525, ¶ 10, citing State v. Thompkins, 78 Ohio St.3d 380, 678 N.E.2d 541 (1997). In such situations, we apply the test from State v. Jenks, 61 Ohio St.3d 259, 574 N.E.2d 492 (1991), which states that:

An appellate court's function when reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence to support a criminal conviction is to examine the evidence admitted at trial to determine whether such evidence, if believed, would convince the average mind of the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The relevant inquiry is whether, after viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

(Citation omitted). Id. at paragraph two of the syllabus.

         {¶ 10} In contrast, "[a] weight of the evidence argument challenges the believability of the evidence and asks which of the competing inferences suggested by the evidence is more believable or persuasive." (Citation omitted.) Wilson at ¶ 12. In this situation, a court reviews " 'the entire record, weighs the evidence and all reasonable inferences, considers the credibility of witnesses and determines whether in resolving conflicts in the evidence, the jury clearly lost its way and created such a manifest miscarriage of justice that the conviction must be reversed and a new trial ordered. The discretionary power to grant a new trial should be exercised only in the exceptional case in which the evidence weighs heavily against the conviction.' " Thompkins, 78 Ohio St.3d at 387, 678 N.E.2d 541, quoting State v. Martin, 20 Ohio App.3d 172, 175, 485 N.E.2d 717 (1st Dist.1983). Accord State v. Drummond, 111 Ohio St.3d 14, 2006-Ohio-5084, 854 N.E.2d 1038, ¶ 193. "The fact that the evidence is subject to different interpretations does not render the conviction against the manifest weight of the evidence." State v. Adams, 2d Dist. Greene Nos. 2013-CA-61, 2013-CA-62, 2014-Ohio-3432, ¶ 24, citing Wilson at ¶ 14.

         {¶ 11} "Although sufficiency and manifest weight are different legal concepts, manifest weight may subsume sufficiency in conducting the analysis; that is, a finding that a conviction is supported by the manifest weight of the evidence necessarily includes a finding of sufficiency." (Citations omitted.) State v. McCrary, 10th Dist. Franklin No. 10AP-881, 2011-Ohio-3161, ¶ 11. Accord State v. Winbush, 2017-Ohio-696, 85 N.E.3d 501, ¶ 58 (2d Dist.). As a result, "a determination that a conviction is supported by the weight of the evidence will also be dispositive of the issue of sufficiency." (Citations omitted.) State v. Braxton, 10th Dist. Franklin No. 04AP-725, 2005-Ohio-2198, ¶ 15.

         {¶ 12} Furthermore, "[b]ecause the factfinder * * * has the opportunity to see and hear the witnesses, the cautious exercise of the discretionary power of a court of appeals to find that a judgment is against the manifest weight of the evidence requires that substantial deference be extended to the factfinder's determinations of credibility. The decision whether, and to what extent, to credit the testimony of particular witnesses is within the peculiar competence of the ...


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