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State v. Adams

Court of Appeals of Ohio, First District, Hamilton

September 6, 2019

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
TROY ADAMS, Defendant-Appellant.

          Criminal Appeal From: Hamilton County Municipal Court TRIAL NO. C-18CRB-6204

         Judgment Appealed From Is: Affirmed in Part, Reversed in Part, and Cause Remanded

          Joseph T. Deters, Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney, and Ronald W. Springman, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for Plaintiff-Appellee,

          Raymond T. Faller, Hamilton County Public Defender, and David Hoffmann, Assistant Public Defender, for Defendant-Appellant.


          BERGERON, JUDGE.

         {¶1} Presenting a counterfeit check can support a conviction for theft by deception when the defendant acts knowingly, as the trial court here found. We accordingly affirm the underlying conviction in this case. But when we shift the focus to the restitution award, the General Assembly has carefully circumscribed who can qualify as a "victim" capable of recovering an award of restitution. On the facts at hand, the third party bank here fails that test, and we accordingly reverse the award of restitution to it.


         {¶2} In search of employment, defendant-appellant Troy Adams alleges he reached out to a man known within the neighborhood only as "Brian" in the hopes of retaining work, specifically manual labor (i.e., tearing down drywall, rebuilding parts of homes). Brian obliged, setting up an arrangement by which Brian would pick up Mr. Adams and other individuals and transport them to the work sites, charging them five dollars per trip, and then return the workers to their home at the end of the day. It remained unclear who, exactly, was to pay Mr. Adams for his efforts, but he expected regular payments. After about two weeks, growing concerned about the lack of a check, Mr. Adams asserts he confronted Brian about his tardy paycheck. Shortly thereafter, Brian allegedly paid him by check, issued by RPI Plumbing Inc. ("RPI") to Troy Adams in the amount of $807.51 and signed by an individual other than Brian. After receiving the check, Mr. Adams proceeded to his own PNC Bank branch ("PNC") to cash the check.

         {¶3} The problem was that RPI had never issued any such check, casting doubt on the accuracy of Mr. Adams's entire story. In a subsequent investigation, an RPI employee discovered six checks not issued by the company, but nevertheless drawn on the company's account. One of these counterfeit checks proved to be the one cashed by Mr. Adams, which prompted his arrest and charge for theft by deception.

         {¶4} At trial, RPI's office manager testified that Mr. Adams had never been an employee of RPI, nor had the company issued a check payable to him. Additionally, RPI's office manager, as well as a PNC bank fraud investigator, confirmed that the check cashed by Mr. Adams was indeed a counterfeit. The trial court also heard from Vanessa Storer, a PNC bank teller, concerning her interactions with Mr. Adams on the day in question and his odd demeanor when cashing the check.

         {¶5} Mr. Adams testified in his own defense, focusing on Brian's conduct and laying any blame at his feet. To explain his possession of the check, Mr. Adams repeatedly asserted that he believed the check to be valid, assuming Brian worked as a contractor for a company who then paid his workers with "contract checks." After receiving the check from Brian, Mr. Adams presumed that RPI was the company Brian worked for as a contractor. Based on this series of assumptions, Mr. Adams cashed the check at PNC.

         {¶6} Ultimately, the trial court found Mr. Adams guilty of theft by deception and ordered Mr. Adams pay restitution in the amount of the counterfeit check to PNC. Mr. Adams now appeals, challenging two aspects of the proceeding below. First, he questions both the sufficiency and manifest weight of the evidence, and second, he argues that the trial court abused its discretion in ordering Mr. Adams pay restitution to PNC. Although we overrule Mr. Adams's first assignment of error, we sustain his second assignment of error relating to the restitution.


         We begin with Mr. Adams's weight and sufficiency challenges. When reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence to support a criminal conviction, "the question is whether after reviewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found all the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." State v. Pettus, 1st Dist. Hamilton No. C-170712, 2019-Ohio-2023, ¶ 52, citing State v. Jenks,61 Ohio St.3d 259, 574 N.E.2d 492 (1991), paragraph two of the syllabus. On the other hand, when reviewing the weight of the evidence, we must "examine the entire record, weigh the evidence and all reasonable inferences, consider the credibility of the witnesses, and determine whether, in resolving conflicts in the ...

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