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State v. Howard

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Second District, Montgomery

May 11, 2018

STATE OF OHIO Plaintiff-Appellee
v.
DEONTAE HOWARD Defendant-Appellant

          Trial Court Case No. 2014-CR-2123 (Criminal Appeal from Common Pleas Court)

          MATHIAS H. HECK, JR., by HEATHER N. JANS, Atty. Reg. No. 0084470, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Montgomery County Prosecutor's Office, Appellate Division, Attorney for Plaintiff-Appellee

          BROCK A. SCHOENLEIN, Atty. Reg. No. 0084707, Attorney for Defendant-Appellant

          OPINION

          WELBAUM, P.J.

          {¶ 1} Defendant-appellant, Deontae Howard, appeals from his conviction and sentence in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas after he pled no contest to two counts of robbery. In support of his appeal, Howard argues that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate his criminal charges because his case was invalidly transferred from the trial court's juvenile division. Specifically, Howard contends that the juvenile court abused its discretion in transferring his case to adult criminal court because it failed to sufficiently identify its reasoning for finding him unamenable to care and rehabilitation in the juvenile justice system. For the reasons outlined below, the judgment of the juvenile court and Howard's conviction in the trial court will be affirmed.

         Facts and Course of Proceedings

         {¶ 2} In the spring of 2014, when he was 17 years old, [1] Howard was charged as a juvenile delinquent in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile Division, for conduct that would amount to second-degree-felony robbery if committed by an adult. The charges arose after it was alleged that Howard took part in a version of the "knock out game" that had recently been sensationalized on social media. As part of this "game, " Howard had a friend video record him with a cell phone camera while he attacked two homeless men on two separate occasions. During the first attack, Howard struck the victim on the back of the head and continued striking the victim as the victim attempted to run away. Howard also demanded the victim's money and cell phone, and took the only money the victim had, a total of $3.00. Less than a month later, Howard engaged in another attack upon a different homeless man, knocking the victim to the ground, kicking him, and stealing his cellphone and bus pass.

         {¶ 3} On April 18, 2014, after the robbery charges were filed in juvenile court, Howard appeared at court and waived his right to a probable cause hearing. In doing so, Howard stipulated that the facts alleged in the juvenile complaint were sufficient to find the existence of probable cause to believe he had committed the robbery offenses. As a result, the juvenile court found the existence of probable cause and scheduled the matter for an amenability hearing in order to determine whether Howard's case should be transferred to adult criminal court.

         {¶ 4} For purposes of the amenability hearing, the juvenile court ordered Howard to undergo a psychological examination and for the probation department to prepare a Disposition Investigation Report ("DIR") on Howard's social history. The DIR and the report of the psychological examination contained information regarding Howard's mental and physical health, family history, academic and behavioral record, and his robbery offenses. The psychological report also provided the results of Howard's clinical interview and psychological testing.

         {¶ 5} Once the reports were prepared, an amenability hearing was held before the juvenile court on June 9, 2014. At this hearing, the juvenile court indicated that it had received and reviewed the DIR and psychological reports. The juvenile court also heard testimony from Howard's high school principal, who testified regarding Howard's academic and disciplinary issues.

         {¶ 6} After hearing all the evidence, the juvenile court made a finding under each factor in R.C. 2152.12(D) and (E). Based on those statutory findings, the information in the DIR and psychological reports, and the "heinous nature of the charge, " the juvenile court found that Howard was not amenable to care or rehabilitation in the juvenile justice system. As a result, the juvenile court issued an order and entry transferring Howard's case to adult criminal court. In the entry, the juvenile court identified the reports it considered and listed each of the findings it had made under R.C. 2152.12(D) and (E). The entry also noted that the juvenile court considered "the child's age, his social history, mental examination, prior Juvenile Court record, previous efforts to treat or rehabilitate, family environment, school records, and the seriousness of the alleged offenses." Order and Entry Granting Motion to Relinquish Jurisdiction and Transfer to General Division (June 11, 2014), Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas Juvenile Division Case No. 2014-2297.

         {¶ 7} Following the transfer of his case to adult criminal court, Howard was indicted on two second-degree-felony counts of robbery. On August 26, 2014, Howard pled no contest to both counts. After accepting Howard's no contest pleas and finding him guilty, the trial court sentenced Howard to four years in prison. Howard then appealed to this court arguing that his conviction was void because the transfer of his case from juvenile court was in error.

         {¶ 8} On appeal, we concluded that the juvenile court "failed to identify its reasoning for reaching its finding that [Howard] could not be rehabilitated in the juvenile system sufficiently to permit us to conduct a meaningful appellate review of its decision." State v. D.H., 2d Dist. Montgomery No. 26383, 2015-Ohio-3259, ¶ 2. In so holding, we reversed Howard's judgment of conviction and remanded the matter to the juvenile court for reconsideration of its decision to relinquish jurisdiction. Id. Following that decision, the State appealed to the Supreme Court of Ohio, which declined to review the appeal. State v. D.H., 144 Ohio St.3d 1477, 2016-Ohio-467, 45 N.E.3d 244.

         {¶ 9} On remand from this court, the juvenile court once again determined that Howard was not amenable to care and rehabilitation in the juvenile justice system. As a result, on March 9, 2016, the juvenile court issued an entry transferring Howard's case to adult criminal court. Howard then appealed from the transfer decision in this court. In response, the State filed a motion to dismiss Howard's appeal for lack of a final appealable order. After taking the matter under advisement, we concluded that juvenile court transfers are not final appealable orders and granted the State's motion to dismiss. In re D.H., 2016-Ohio-5265, 69 N.E.3d 127 (2d Dist.). Howard then appealed to the Supreme Court of Ohio, which granted jurisdiction to review his appeal. In re D.H., 147 Ohio St.3d 1505, 2017-Ohio-261, 67 N.E.3d 823.

         {¶ 10} While Howard's appeal in the Supreme Court was pending, the juvenile court proceeded with transferring Howard's case to adult criminal court where he was reindicted on the same two counts of robbery. Thereafter, on July 5, 2016, Howard entered no contest pleas to both counts of robbery, which the trial court accepted prior to sentencing him to four years in prison. Howard then appealed from his conviction; however, we stayed the appeal pending the Supreme Court's ruling on the final appealable order issue. Decision and Entry (Feb. 22, 2017), 2d Dist. Montgomery App. Case No. 27198.

         {¶ 11} On January 4, 2018, the Supreme Court of Ohio issued a decision affirming our dismissal of Howard's appeal after finding that a juvenile court's order transferring jurisdiction to adult criminal court is not a final appealable order. In re D.H., Sup. Ct. Slip Opinion No. 2018-Ohio-17, ¶ 22. As a result of that decision, we lifted the stay on Howard's appeal from his 2016 conviction. Decision and Entry (Jan. 10, 2018), 2d Dist. Montgomery App. Case No. 27198. Accordingly, Howard's appeal is now properly before this court for review.

         Assignment of Error

         {¶ 12} In support of his appeal, Howard raises the following single assignment of error for review.

THE JUVENILE COURT ERRED, FOR THE SECOND TIME, IN RELINQUISHING JURISDICTION TO THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS AND THUS THE COMMON PLEAS PROCEEDINGS THERE WERE AGAIN VOID AB INITIO.

         {¶ 13} Under his sole assignment of error, Howard contends that the juvenile court's decision on remand transferring his case from juvenile court to adult criminal court was an abuse of discretion. Specifically, Howard claims that the juvenile court simply reiterated its prior transfer decision and that the court once again failed to identify its ...


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