State v. King, CA2022-01-001

CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Ohio)
Writing for the CourtM. POWELL, P.J.
Citation2022 Ohio 3388
PartiesSTATE OF OHIO, Appellee, v. STEPHANIE LEE KING, Appellant.
Docket NumberCA2022-01-001
Decision Date26 September 2022


STATE OF OHIO, Appellee,


No. CA2022-01-001

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Twelfth District, Clermont

September 26, 2022


Mark J. Tekulve, Clermont County Prosecuting Attorney, and Nicholas A. Horton, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for appellee.

Daniel E. Whiteley, Jr., for appellant.



{¶ 1} Appellant, Stephanie King, appeals her convictions in the Clermont County Court of Common Pleas for aggravated possession of methamphetamine, aggravated possession of morphine, and possession of a fentanyl-related compound.

{¶ 2} On November 26, 2019, King was indicted by the Clermont County Grand Jury for second-degree felony aggravated possession of drugs (methamphetamine),


fifth-degree felony aggravated possession of drugs (morphine) and fifth-degree felony possession of a fentanyl-related compound. King entered not guilty pleas and the matter proceeded to a jury trial.

{¶ 3} The trial testimony and other evidence disclosed that on July 1, 2019, Union Township Police Sergeant Rodney Combs responded to a Walmart parking lot at 3:30 a.m. to investigate a report that a male was passed out in a truck. Upon arriving at the scene, Sergeant Combs observed the truck exit the parking lot. Sergeant Combs followed and initiated a traffic stop of the truck for failing to signal a left turn. Sergeant Combs found the truck contained three occupants, consisting of a male driver, and a male and female passenger. King was sitting in the center of the truck between the two males. The sergeant contacted the driver, obtained identifying information for all three individuals, and returned to his police cruiser to check for active warrants. The sergeant discovered "multiple people," including King, were subject to active arrest warrants.

{¶ 4} By this time backup officers, including Officer Jeffrey Joehnk, had arrived on the scene to assist. While Sergeant Combs was conducting the warrants check, Officer Joehnk was observing the truck and saw King making furtive movements. Specifically, Officer Joehnk saw King "raising up off the seat" and then "going towards the floorboard." Officer Joehnk testified that he could not see King's hands, but it appeared to him that King "was getting something from her waistband area and trying to get rid of it," or conceal something. Officer Joehnk also noted that neither male made any movements at that time.

{¶ 5} Sergeant Combs wanted a K-9 unit to conduct an open-air sniff based in part on his initial observations. Officer Perkins responded with his dog, Kaos. The truck's occupants were removed from the vehicle and Kaos sniffed the truck. Kaos alerted to the passenger side door. Based upon Kaos' alert, the truck was searched. Officers then searched the vehicle and discovered what appeared to be illicit drugs inside an otherwise


empty cigarette pack. The cigarette pack was located inside a Circle K bag that was on the floorboard in the middle of the vehicle where King's feet would have been and in the area where Officer Joehnk observed King directing her furtive movements. The search also yielded a white purse in the truck bed which contained a "female makeup case" and a cell phone. Inside the makeup case the police discovered two digital scales that had a powdery residue on them consistent with methamphetamine. A black purse was also discovered in the truck bed, which contained a medicine vial with King's name on it, three cell phones, and a hypodermic needle. Officer Joehnk testified King had what appeared to be hypodermic needle marks on her arms, and photographs of the needle marks were shown to the jury and admitted at trial. Inside the truck, officers discovered "coin baggies" in plain view on the "middle of the bench seat" where King had been sitting. Officer Joehnk described the "coin baggies" as being consistent with bags used to store narcotics.

{¶ 6} The substances discovered in the cigarette pack found inside the Circle K bag were submitted for laboratory analysis. The analysis revealed that the cigarette pack contained approximately 18 grams of methamphetamine and approximately .05 grams of acetyl fentanyl, fentanyl, and morphine.

{¶ 7} Based upon the foregoing, the jury returned guilty verdicts on all three counts. The trial court sentenced King to an indefinite prison term of four to six years, imposed a mandatory fine of $7,500, and ordered King to pay court costs.

{¶ 8} King now appeals her convictions, raising the following assignments of error.

{¶ 9} Assignment of Error No. 1:


{¶ 11} Assignment of Error No. 2:




{¶ 13} King argues that her convictions were not supported by sufficient evidence and were against the manifest weight of the evidence.

{¶ 14} "A claim challenging the sufficiency of the evidence invokes a due process concern and raises the question whether the evidence is legally sufficient to support the jury verdict as a matter of law." State v. Clinton, 153 Ohio St.3d 422, 2017-Ohio-9423, ¶ 165, citing State v. Thompkins, 78 Ohio St.3d 380, 386 (1997); State v. Grinstead, 194 Ohio App.3d 755, 2011-Ohio-3018, ¶ 10 (12th Dist.). "When reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence underlying a criminal conviction, an appellate court examines the evidence in order to determine whether such evidence, if believed, would convince the average mind of the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." State v. Intihar, 12th Dist. Warren No. CA2015-05-046, 2015-Ohio-5507, ¶ 9. "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.'" State v. Roper, 12th Dist. Clermont No. CA2021-05-019, 2022-Ohio-244, ¶ 39, quoting State v. Jenks, 61 Ohio St.3d 259 (1991), paragraph two of the syllabus. This test "requires a determination as to whether the state has met its burden of production at trial." State v. Boles, 12th Dist. Brown No. CA2012-06-012, 2013-Ohio-5202, ¶ 34. A reversal for insufficient evidence requires the "discharge of the defendant." State v. Jones, 166 Ohio St.3d 85, 2021 -Ohio-3311, ¶ 30.

{¶ 15} A manifest weight of the evidence challenge examines the "inclination of the greater amount of credible evidence, offered at a trial, to support one side of the issue rather than the other." State v. Barnett, 12th Dist. Butler No. CA2011-09-177, 2012-Ohio-2372, ¶ 14. When determining whether a conviction is against the manifest weight of the evidence, an appellate court "must look at the entire record, weigh the evidence and all reasonable


inferences, consider the credibility of the witnesses, and determine whether in resolving the conflicts in the evidence, the trier of fact clearly lost its way and created such a manifest miscarriage of justice that the conviction must be reversed and a new trial ordered." State v. Morgan, 12th Dist. Butler Nos. CA2013-08-146 and CA2013-08-147, 2014-Ohio-2472, ¶ 34. But, even then, the determination of witness credibility is primarily for the trier of fact to decide at trial. State v. Baker, 12th Dist. Butler No. CA2019-08-146, 2020-Ohio-2882, ¶ 30, citing State v. DeHass, 10 Ohio St.2d 230 (1967), paragraph one of the syllabus. This court, therefore, "will overturn a conviction due to the manifest weight of the evidence only in extraordinary circumstances when the evidence presented at trial weighs heavily in favor of acquittal." State v. Kaufhold, 12th Dist. Butler No. CA2019-09-148, 2020-Ohio-3835, ¶ 10, citing State v. Blair, 12th Dist. Butler No. CA2014-01 -023, 2015-Ohio-818, ¶ 43. "[A] new trial is the appropriate remedy when a reviewing court determines that a criminal conviction is against the manifest weight of the evidence." State v. Fips, 160 Ohio St.3d 348, 2020-Ohio-1449, ¶ 10.

{¶ 16} Given these principles, it is now well established that "[t]he concepts of sufficiency of the evidence and weight of the evidence are legally distinct." State v. Fannin, 12th Dist. Warren No. CA2020-03-022, 2021-Ohio-2462, ¶ 47, citing State v. Wright, 12th Dist. Butler No. CA2012-08-152, 2014-Ohio-985, ¶ 10. That is to say, "[a] verdict can be against the manifest weight of the evidence even though legally sufficient evidence supports it." State v. Hundley, 162 Ohio St.3d 509, 2020-Ohio-3775, ¶ 80, citing State v. Robinson, 162 Ohio St. 486, 487 (1955). Because of this, "a finding that a conviction is supported by the weight of the evidence must necessarily include a finding of sufficiency." State v. Perkins, 12th Dist. Fayette No. CA2009-10-019, 2010-Ohio-2968, ¶ 9. This is because legally sufficient evidence is required to take a case to the jury. State v. Hart, 12th Dist. Brown No. CA2011-03-008, 2012-Ohio-1896, ¶ 43. Therefore, although challenges to the


sufficiency of the evidence and the manifest weight of the evidence require the application of quantitatively and qualitatively different concepts, "[a] determination that a conviction is supported by the manifest weight of the evidence will also be dispositive of the issue of sufficiency." State v. Jones, 12th Dist. Butler No. CA2012-03-049, 2013-Ohio-150, ¶ 19; State v. August, 12th Dist. Warren No. CA2018-12-136, 2019-Ohio-4126, ¶ 48.

{¶ 17} As noted above, King was convicted of three felony drug offenses all in violation of R.C. 2925.11(A). Pursuant to that statute, "[n]o person shall knowingly obtain, possess, or use a controlled substance or a controlled substance analog." R.C. 2901.22(B) indicates a person acts "knowingly, regardless of purpose, when the person is aware that the person's conduct will probably cause a certain...

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