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State v. Stanford

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Sixth District, Huron

July 27, 2018

State of Ohio Appellee
Christopher G. Stanford Appellant

          Trial Court No. CRI 2017-0290

          James Joel Sitterly, Huron County Prosecuting Attorney, for appellee.

          Mollie B. Hojnicki-Mathieson, for appellant.


          PIETRYKOWSKI, J.

         {¶ 1} Defendant-appellant, Christopher Stanford, appeals the August 2, 2017 judgment of the Huron County Court of Common Pleas which, following a jury trial finding him guilty of two counts of aiding and abetting trafficking in oxycodone and one count of trafficking in oxycodone, sentenced appellant to a total of 31 months of imprisonment. For the following reasons, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

         {¶ 2} On April 7, 2017, appellant was indicted on two counts of aiding and abetting in the trafficking of oxycodone in violation of R.C. 2923.03(A)(2) and 2925.03(A)(1) and (C)(1)(a), and one count of trafficking in oxycodone, in violation of R.C. 2925.03(A)(1) and (C)(1)(a). Three controlled purchases of oxycodone made by a confidential informant working for the Norwalk Police Department form the basis of these charges. Following his arrest on March 14, 2017, appellant pled not guilty to the charges.

         {¶ 3} A jury trial commenced on July 19, 2017, and the following relevant evidence was presented. Count 1, aiding and abetting in the trafficking of oxycodone, arises from events on January 18, 2017. Detectives Daniels and Fulton of the Norwalk Police Department prepared the informant, K.M., and surveilled appellant's residence while the controlled purchase took place. Appellant and his girlfriend, Michelle Irby, were present and interacted with K.M. during the transaction. K.M. waited outside the residence for appellant and Irby to arrive and followed them into the house. Appellant spoke conversationally with K.M. while Irby exchanged the money for the pills. The transmitter worn by K.M. recorded appellant saying "seventy-five for three" in response to a comment by Irby. Detectives gave K.M. $75 to purchase three oxycodone pills.

         {¶ 4} By means of a transmitter carried on K.M.'s person, detectives listened and recorded the transaction. Detective Daniels, Detective Fulton, and K.M. all testified at trial regarding the details of the purchase. On cross-examination, K.M.'s testimony regarding which individual took possession of the buy money was shown to contradict recorded statements made during K.M.'s debriefing with officers immediately following the purchase. Detective Daniels testified that Irby collected the money, a statement corroborated by recorded audio of K.M.'s debriefing following the purchase.

         {¶ 5} Count 2, trafficking in oxycodone, arose from events of January 20, 2017. K.M. testified that appellant apprised him of five, five-milligram oxycodone pills available for sale prior to the transaction. Detectives Daniels and Fulton prepared K.M. and surveilled appellant's vehicle during the transaction from approximately 75 feet away. During debriefing, K.M. stated that he purchased pills in a hand-to-hand exchange with appellant inside appellant's vehicle. Appellant was alone in his vehicle when K.M. entered to make the purchase. Appellant then left the vehicle, entered his residence, and returned to the car before the sale's completion. Detectives listened to audio of the transaction as it occurred; however, due to malfunctioning equipment no recording exists. From the detectives' position, appellant was visible during the purchase, but the hand-to-hand exchange was not. Both the detectives and K.M. testified at trial as to the events of the transaction.

         {¶ 6} Count 3, aiding and abetting in trafficking of oxycodone, arose from events of January 25, 2017. Detectives Daniels and Fulton were present and again prepared K.M. prior to the transaction taking place in appellant's home. K.M. called beforehand and spoke with appellant who greeted him at the door and let him inside the residence; appellant left the residence to purchase cigarettes. Irby conducted the transaction during appellant's absence. In the recording of the transaction, a disagreement as to the agreed upon price can be heard; Irby believed the price was $25 per pill, K.M. disagreed showing her a text from appellant stating the price as $23 per pill. When appellant returned, he confirmed the price stated in the text. Irby gave K.M. only two of the three pills paid for upon learning the pills were meant for a mutual acquaintance who owed her money. Detectives listened and recorded the transaction via a transmitter. Both the detectives and K.M. testified at trial regarding the details of the transaction.

         {¶ 7} In preparation for all three controlled purchases, K.M. was searched, wired, and provided documented buy money. At trial, K.M. testified that the controlled sales were arranged with appellant "through the phone," but could not recall whether it was by call or text. Detective Fulton's testimony later clarified that none of the buys were arranged by controlled phone call; rather, K.M. independently arranged all three buys. Copies of texts exchanged between K.M. and appellant were not surrendered to Detective Fulton and were never before the jury

         {¶ 8} On July 20, 2017, the jury returned a verdict finding appellant guilty of all charges. This appeal followed with appellant raising three assignments of errors for review:

I. The evidence at appellant's trial was insufficient to support the convictions and appellant's convictions are against the manifest weight of the evidence.
II. Appellant was denied effective assistance of counsel as guaranteed by the United States and Ohio Constitutions.
III. The trial court erred when it prevented appellant from introducing into evidence prior bad acts of the confidential informant, and allowed the admission of improper hearsay evidence.

         {¶ 9} In appellant's first assignment of error, he argues that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support convictions on Counts 1 and 3, and that all three convictions are against the manifest weight of the evidence. Appellant asserts that evidence supporting his aiding and abetting convictions merely establish appellant's presence at or around the time of the controlled purchases.

         {¶ 10} The Supreme Court of Ohio has held that "mere presence of an accused at the scene of a crime is not sufficient to prove, in and of itself, that the accused was an aider and abettor." State v. Widner, 69 Ohio St.2d 267, 269, 431 N.E.2d 1025 (1982); compare Smith v. State, 41 Ohio App. 64, 67-68, 179 N.E. 696 (9th Dist.1931). Nevertheless, evidence of aiding and abetting may be either direct or circumstantial; consequently, criminal intent may be inferred from "'presence, companionship and conduct before and after the offense is committed.'" State v. Cartellone, 3 Ohio App.3d 145, 150, 444 N.E.2d 68 (8th Dist.1981), quoting State v. Pruett, 28 Ohio App.2d 29, 34, 273 N.E.2d 884 (4th Dist.1971).

         {¶ 11} Sufficiency of the evidence is "'that legal standard which is applied to determine whether the case may go to the jury or whether the evidence is legally sufficient to support a jury verdict as a matter of law.'" State v. Thompkins, 78 Ohio St.3d 380, 386, 678 N.E.2d 541 (1997), quoting Black's Law Dictionary 1433 (6 Ed.1990). In State v. Jenks, 61 Ohio St.3d 259, 574 N.E.2d 492 (1991), the Ohio Supreme Court outlined the analysis required to apply this standard:

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. ...

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