State v. Baker

CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Ohio)
Citation177 N.E.3d 1030
Docket NumberNo. 29038,29038
Parties STATE of Ohio, Plaintiff-Appellant v. Michael J. BAKER, Defendant-Appellee
Decision Date06 May 2021

177 N.E.3d 1030

STATE of Ohio, Plaintiff-Appellant
Michael J. BAKER, Defendant-Appellee

No. 29038

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Second District, Montgomery County.

May 6, 2021

Andrew French, 301 W. Third Street, 5th Floor, Dayton, Ohio 45422, Attorney for Appellee, State of Ohio.

Michael Brush, Michael Miller, 2233 Miamisburg-Centerville Road, Dayton, Ohio 45459, Attorneys for Appellee, Michael Baker.



{¶ 1} The State of Ohio filed a notice of appeal from the January 27, 2021 "Judgment of Acquittal" issued by the trial court in the criminal case against Michael J. Baker. The State also filed a motion for leave to appeal, which begins:

The State of Ohio asks this Court to grant leave to appeal the trial court's decision granting Michael Baker's Crim.R. 29(A) motion for acquittal at the
177 N.E.3d 1032
close of the State's case-in-chief, which was announced in open court on January 27, 2021, and journalized by entry filed later that day. The authority for the State's appeal is found in R.C. 2945.67(A) and App.R. 5(C), and the grounds are set out in the accompanying memorandum.

The State's memorandum also says that it "seeks leave to appeal the trial court's decision to grant Michael Baker's motion for acquittal under Crim.R. 29(A)." The State contends that the trial court used an improper legal standard for deciding the motion, arguing that had the court actually viewed the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, it would have found the evidence sufficient for a conviction on the gross sexual imposition charge.

{¶ 2} The State has a limited right to appeal four kinds of orders as a matter of right. R.C. 2945.67(A). This case is not an appeal of right. The State may also seek a discretionary appeal under R.C. 2945.67(A), which allows a prosecutor to "appeal by leave of the court to which the appeal is taken any other decision, except the final verdict , of the trial court in a criminal case." (Emphasis added.) "A judgment of acquittal by the trial judge, based upon Crim.R. 29(C), is a final verdict within the meaning of R.C. 2945.67(A) and is not appealable by the state as a matter of right or by leave to appeal pursuant to that statute." State ex rel. Yates v. Court of Appeals for Montgomery Cty. , 32 Ohio St.3d 30, 512 N.E.2d 343 (1987), syllabus. The same is true for a Crim.R. 29(A ) acquittal. State v. Hampton , 134 Ohio St.3d 447, 2012-Ohio-5688, 983 N.E.2d 324, ¶ 14-17. In discretionary appeals, "[b]ecause reviewing courts are generally prohibited from issuing opinions when there is no case or controversy, appellate courts should exercise caution to accept appeals of this nature only when the issues raised are likely to be repeated in other cases." Katz, Martin & Macke, Baldwin's Ohio Practice, Section 80:23 (3d Ed.2020), citing State v. Ross , 128 Ohio St.3d 283, 2010-Ohio-6282, 943 N.E.2d 992, ¶ 32 and State v. Bistricky , 51 Ohio St.3d 157, 158-159, 555 N.E.2d 644 (1990).

{¶ 3} Because the State designated the January 27, 2021 "Judgment of Acquittal" as the order on appeal, and specifically asked for leave to appeal "the trial court's decision to grant Michael Baker's motion for acquittal under Crim.R. 29(A)," we issued a show cause order to the State. See Ross at ¶ 21, ¶ 51 (not reviewing or disturbing an acquittal order where "[t]he state did not expressly disavow an appeal of the judgment of acquittal itself [but] included the trial court's order ‘granting the Defendant Judgment of Acquittal’ within the description of its appeal"). We noted in our show cause order that certain evidentiary/legal rulings underlying an acquittal may be appealed, and ordered the State to show why its appeal was permitted under the statute prohibiting the State from appealing a final verdict. R.C. 2945.67(A). Michael Baker independently opposed the State's motion for leave on the same grounds.

{¶ 4} The State's response to the show cause order frames the issue in terms of a legal issue concerning the applicable standard for a Crim.R. 29(A) motion. The State argues:

In its appeal here, the State seeks leave to appeal what it contends was the trial court's failure to apply the correct legal standard to Baker's motion for acquittal. In particular, the State seeks to appeal the trial court's failure, when considering Baker's motion, to construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, i.e. a sufficiency-of-the-evidence review, as the law requires. See
177 N.E.3d 1033
State v. Bridgeman , 55 Ohio St.2d 261, 381 N.E.2d 184 (1978). As established by Appendix B to the State's February 25, 2021 motion for leave to appeal, rather than considering Baker's motion for acquittal under the proper sufficiency-of-the-evidence standard, the trial court chose to weigh the evidence in its mind and draw inferences from the evidence that it believed were reasonable. In other words, the trial court applied a standard of review akin to a consideration of the manifest weight of the evidence, which is clearly contrary to law.

What the State seeks leave to appeal, therefore, is the trial court's application of the wrong legal standard to its review of a Crim.R. 29 motion for acquittal; it does not seek to appeal the final verdict.

State's SCO Response, p.2. Upon consideration, this court disagrees with the State's characterization of the issue.

{¶ 5} As noted above, the State may not appeal the "final verdict" in a criminal case. R.C. 2945.67(A). The Supreme Court of Ohio has held that discrete evidentiary and legal issues underlying a final verdict may nonetheless be appealed. For example, in 1985, in State v. Keeton , 18 Ohio St.3d 379, 481 N.E.2d 629, the Supreme Court held that the State could appeal the evidentiary rulings underlying an acquittal. In Keeton , the State sought an appeal of the trial court's determination that the chain of custody in the case had not been properly established and that the physical evidence had been altered, which led to the acquittal. The Court noted that the State "did not appeal the judgments of acquittal, but sought only to appeal the alleged erroneous ruling of law underlying the trial court's judgments of acquittal." Id. at 380, 481 N.E.2d 629. It held that "the evidentiary rulings * * * fall within the language of ‘any...

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