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State v. Miller

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Second District, Montgomery

August 16, 2019

STATE OF OHIO Plaintiff-Appellant
JOSEPH LEE MILLER Defendant-Appellee

          Criminal Appeal from Common Pleas Court Trial Court Case No. 2018-CR-3126

          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-Appellant

          SUSAN F. SOUTHER, Atty. Reg. No. 0058529, Attorney for Defendant-Appellee


          TUCKER, J.

         {¶ 1} This case is before us on the appeal of the State of Ohio from an order dismissing the indictment against Defendant-Appellee, Joseph Miller. According to the State, the trial court erred in granting Miller's motion to dismiss the indictment because the immunity provision in R.C. 2925.11(B)(2)(b) for persons receiving medical assistance as a result of a drug overdose does not apply to this case.

         {¶ 2} We conclude that the trial court erred in part in dismissing the indictment. The immunity that R.C. 2925.11(B)(2)(b) provides does not apply to prosecution of offenses that occur prior to the individual's overdose, nor does it apply to charges that are not listed in R.C. 2925.11(B)(2)(b). However, the trial court did not err in dismissing a drug possession charge based on drugs that were found after Miller was taken to the hospital, even if the drugs could have been discovered in a routine search at the jail or pursuant to a search done incident to Miller's arrest on other charges. R.C. 2925.11(B)(2)(b)(i) is unambiguous and provides immunity for possession of drugs that are discovered as a result of obtaining medical assistance for an overdose, which is what occurred in this case. Accordingly, the trial court's order will be reversed in part and affirmed in part, and this cause will be remanded for further proceedings.

         I. Facts and Course of Proceedings

         {¶ 3} In October 2018, the State filed an indictment charging Miller with five counts, including two counts of possession of fentanyl, one count of possession of methamphetamine, one count of falsification (public official), and one count of possession of drug abuse instruments. These charges involved, respectively, three fifth-degree felonies, a first-degree misdemeanor, and a second-degree misdemeanor. After pleading not guilty, Miller filed a motion to dismiss the indictment based on the fact that he was a "qualified individual" under R.C. 2925.11(B)(2) and was immune from prosecution.

         {¶ 4} The State responded to the motion, and the trial court then issued an order dismissing the indictment. The court did not hold an evidentiary hearing, but relied on the content in Exhibit A, to which the parties had stipulated.

         {¶ 5} According to Exhibit A, Miamisburg Police Officer Benjamin Carter was on routine road patrol on May 26, 2018, at around 7:56 p.m., when he stopped a 2002 Ford truck for a muffler violation. After contacting the driver and informing her of the violation, Carter obtained her driver's license. He also asked the front-seat passenger, Miller, for identification. Miller said that he did not have his ID; he gave Carter the name of Charles Coatney, a social security number, and a birthdate. A check of the social security number yielded negative results, and a name search turned up a social security number that was one digit off from the one Miller provided and a birthdate for a much older man. When Carter checked with Miller again, Miller gave him the same social security number and said he was from Tennessee. However, Tennessee records for the Coatney name also yielded negative results.

         {¶ 6} Carter had prior contact with Miller and thought he looked familiar. Because he believed Miller was providing false information, Carter removed him from the car and placed him in custody for obstructing official business. Carter then asked Miller if he had anything illegal, and Miller said he had a syringe in his right front pocket. After retrieving the syringe, Carter inspected it and found that it contained an unknown liquid. As a result, Carter placed Miller in the back seat of his cruiser. He then discovered that Miller was the subject of an outstanding felony warrant. After Carter gave Miller Miranda rights, Miller stated that he had lied because he had an outstanding warrant. Miller also said the syringe contained heroin.

         {¶ 7} Carter then began to transport Miller to the Montgomery County Jail. However, Miller stated that he was going to vomit. When Carter pulled over and exited the patrol car, Miller said he had swallowed a half gram of heroin. Carter called for a medic, and when other officers came to assist, Miller was breathing but was not responsive. Another officer administered a dose of Narcan, and shortly thereafter, medics arrived on the scene and transported Miller to Sycamore Medical Center for further evaluation.

         {¶ 8} Carter also went to the hospital and informed the hospital that Miller had an outstanding warrant. Subsequently, the police faxed a copy of the detainer to hospital security, which said the police would be notified when Miller was discharged. Carter then left, after giving Miller a summons and court dates for obstructing official business and possession of drug abuse instruments.

         {¶ 9} Shortly after Carter left, hospital security contacted the police and said that drugs had been located on Miller's person. At that point, Carter returned to the hospital, where he learned that the doctor had noticed that Miller remained in a fetal position during the examination. When Miller's clothes were removed, a security officer, Officer Daymon, located two plastic baggies containing an unknown white powdery substance. Daymon placed the two baggies in a larger plastic bag, and then gave the bag to Carter. Carter booked the baggies as well as the syringe into evidence and sent them to the Miami Valley Regional Crime Lab for analysis.

         {¶ 10} After testing, the lab found that the syringe contained fentanyl and methamphetamine, with a total weight of .12 grams. Each plastic bag contained fentanyl, with the total weight of the two bags being .16 grams. As noted, Miller was subsequently indicted on five charges relating to these events, and the trial court dismissed the indictment. The State then appealed from the dismissal of the indictment.

         II. Does R.C. 2929.11(B)(2)(b) Apply to this Case?

         {¶ 11} The State's sole assignment of error states that:

The Trial Court Erred in Granting Miller's Motion to Dismiss. R.C. 2925.11(B)'s Immunity Provision Had No Application to Miller's Case

         {¶ 12} Under this assignment of error, the State addresses two types of charges: those occurring before Miller's overdose, and one resulting from the discovery of drugs at the hospital. According to the State, charges based on events occurring before Miller's overdose did not result from his overdose within the meaning of R.C. 2925.11(B)(2)(b). In addition, the State contends that charges based on discovery of drugs after Miller's overdose did not result from an overdose for purposes of the immunity statute, because the drugs would inevitably have been discovered during a search incident to arrest or a routine search at the jail.

         {¶ 13} A de novo standard of review has been applied to decisions interpreting R.C. 2925.11(B), because "the correct interpretation of a statute is a question of law subject to de-novo review." State v. Simmons,2018-Ohio-2018, 112 N.E.3d 327, ¶ 18 (4th Dist.), citing State v. Pountney,152 Ohio St.3d 474, 2018-Ohio-22, 97 N.E.3d 478, ¶ 20. (Other citation omitted.) In this situation, appellate courts do not defer to a trial court's interpretation. Id. Furthermore, appellate courts generally apply de novo review when reviewing trial court decisions to dismiss indictments. ...

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