Court of Appeals of Ohio, First District, Hamilton
Criminal Appeal From: Hamilton County Municipal Court TRIAL
Appealed From Is: Affirmed in Part, Reversed in Part, and
T. Deters, Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney, and Ronald
W. Springman, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for
Raymond T. Faller, Hamilton County Public Defender, and David
Hoffmann, Assistant Public Defender, for Defendant-Appellant.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ...