State v. P.J.F., 2020-0700

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Ohio
Writing for the CourtDonnelly, J.
Citation2022 Ohio 4152
PartiesThe State of Ohio, Appellee, v. [P.J.F.], Appellant.
Docket Number2020-0700
Decision Date23 November 2022


The State of Ohio, Appellee,

[P.J.F.], Appellant.

No. 2020-0700

Supreme Court of Ohio

November 23, 2022

Submitted April 28, 2021

Appeal from the Court of Appeals for Franklin County, No. 19AP-147, 2020-Ohio-1522.

G. Gary Tyack, Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney, and Steven L. Taylor and Michael P. Walton, Assistant Prosecuting Attorneys, for appellee.

Law Offices of Mark J. Miller, L.L.C., and Mark J. Miller, for appellant.

Donnelly, J.

{¶ 1} In this discretionary appeal from a judgment of the Tenth District Court of Appeals, we are asked to determine the point at which a person convicted


of a felony attains a "final discharge" from a sentence of nonresidential community control for purposes of becoming eligible to have the felony conviction sealed. Specifically, we must determine whether the failure to have satisfied a condition of community control prevents a defendant from receiving a final discharge even after community control has been terminated. We hold that it does not. When a defendant's nonresidential community control is terminated, the defendant receives a final discharge from the community-control sanction. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Tenth District holding otherwise, and we reinstate the trial court's judgment.


{¶ 2} In 2003, the Domestic Relations and Juvenile Division of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas ordered appellant, P.J.F., to pay $216.85 per month in child support for his daughter, D.F., who was born in 1998. P.J.F. failed to pay most of his child-support obligation from June 2008 to June 2010, and in 2012, he was convicted of one fifth-degree felony count of nonsupport of a dependent, in violation of R.C. 2919.21. The trial court imposed a five-year term of nonresidential community control with conditions such as a prohibition against being arrested for or convicted of any new offense, a requirement to comply with all child-support orders, and a requirement to pay child-support arrearages owed through February 29, 2012, which totaled $8,857.80. As for financial sanctions under R.C. 2929.18, the court waived fines and court costs after considering P.J.F.'s present and future ability to pay.

{¶ 3} In 2013, P.J.F.'s probation officer notified the court that P.J.F. had violated the conditions of his community control, primarily by failing to pay arrearages to the Franklin County Child Support Enforcement Agency and failing to make several monthly child-support payments since his conviction. Based on P.J.F.'s failure to comply with the conditions of his community control, the trial court ordered him to spend multiple three- or four-day periods in jail during 2013


and 2014 and otherwise continued his community control. On July 21, 2014, the trial court considered a request to terminate community control. The record does not indicate which party filed the request. The trial court granted the request and "discharged" P.J.F. from community control, though it noted that he had not complied with the terms of his community control.

{¶ 4} On December 17, 2018, P.J.F. filed an application to seal the record of his conviction. The state asserted that P.J.F. was ineligible to have his record sealed, arguing that he had not yet paid "restitution" and therefore had "not received a final discharge" from his 2012 sentence. Apart from the threshold eligibility issue, the state did not otherwise dispute that the record of P.J.F.'s conviction should be sealed.

{¶ 5} The trial court held that the obligation to pay $8,857.80 in arrearages pursuant to the domestic-court order included amounts outside the two-year time frame in P.J.F.'s indictment, and therefore necessarily constituted a condition of P.J.F.'s nonresidential community control rather than a restitution order.[1] The trial court further indicated that P.J.F. was eligible to have his conviction record sealed and that his interest in sealing the record outweighed the state's interest in keeping it open. The trial court granted P.J.F.'s application and ordered that his conviction record be sealed.

{¶ 6} The state appealed the trial court's decision to the Tenth District. The state acknowledged that it was incorrect when it argued to the trial court that P.J.F.'s failure to pay "restitution" prevented final discharge from his sentence. Instead, it argued that under State v. Aguirre, 144 Ohio St.3d 179, 2014-Ohio-4603, 41 N.E.3d 1178,


PJ.F.'s failure to satisfy the arrearage-payment condition of his community control prevented his final discharge. Because P.J.F. had not satisfied that condition of his community control, the state claimed that he had not received a final discharge from his 2012 sentence and thus, he was ineligible to have the record of his conviction sealed. In response, P.J.F. argued that the state had forfeited its argument regarding the conditions of his nonresidential community control by failing to raise the argument below. He further argued that Aguirre addressed restitution only and does not apply to past conditions of community control.

{¶ 7} The Tenth District rejected PJ.F.'s forfeiture argument and addressed the merits of the state's argument under a de novo review.[2] 2020-Ohio-1522, ¶ 13. The appellate court agreed with the state's interpretation of Aguirre and held that the conditions of a defendant's nonresidential community-control sanction constitute sentencing requirements and that a defendant must satisfy all such sentencing requirements in order to receive a final discharge. Id. at 11-12. The court therefore reversed the judgment sealing PJ.F.'s nonsupport conviction.

{¶ 8} P.J.F. sought our discretionary review of the Tenth District's decision, and we accepted jurisdiction over the following proposition of law: "In a felony child support case, an applicant becomes eligible to have his record sealed when his child support payments are ordered as a condition of community control, his community control is terminated[,] and the statutory waiting period has elapsed." See 159 Ohio St.3d 1481, 2020-Ohio-4053, 150 N.E.3d 975.


{¶ 9} The question presented here centers on the meaning of the term "final discharge" as it is used in R.C. 2953.32. Accordingly, we are presented with a


question of law, which we review de novo. See Gabbard v. Madison Local School Dist. Bd. of Edn., 165 Ohio St.3d 390, 2021-Ohio-2067, 179 N.E.3d 1169, ¶ 6. "If the meaning of the statute is unambiguous and definite, it must be applied as written and no further interpretation is necessary." State ex rel. Savarese v. Buckeye Local School Dist. Bd. of Edn., 74 Ohio St.3d 543, 545, 660 N.E.2d 463 (1996). The meaning of a statutory term must be understood in its context and "according to the rules of grammar and common usage." Rhodes v. New Philadelphia, 129 Ohio St.3d 304, 2011-Ohio-3279, 951 N.E.2d 782, ¶ 17, citing R.C. 1.42. If "a term is not defined in the statute, it...

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