State v. Walls, 2001-0099.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Ohio
Citation96 Ohio St.3d 437,2002 Ohio 5059,775 N.E.2d 829
Docket NumberNo. 2001-0099.,2001-0099.
PartiesThe STATE of Ohio, Appellee, v. WALLS, Appellant.
Decision Date09 October 2002

Robin N. Piper, Butler County Prosecuting Attorney, and Daniel G. Eichel, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for appellee.

Law Offices of Scott J. Frederick, Scott J. Frederick, Hamilton, and Kristen L. Sphar, Cincinnati, for appellant.

Michael K. Allen, Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney, and Rebecca L. Collins, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, urging affirmance for amicus curiae Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys' Association.

David H. Bodiker, Ohio Public Defender, and T. Kenneth Lee, Assistant Public Defender, Columbus, urging reversal for amicus curiae Office of the Ohio Public Defender.


{¶ 1} Defendant-appellant, Kevin Walls, appeals from his aggravated murder conviction for an offense that occurred 13 years prior to his indictment and while he was still a minor. Focusing upon the time lapse between the indictment and the offense, Walls argues that his conviction is unconstitutional because of (1) a retroactive application of a law requiring that he be tried as an adult and (2) unreasonable preindictment delay. Because we find no merit to either of his constitutional claims, we affirm his conviction.


{¶ 2} On March 8, 1985, Ann Zwiefelhoefer was found dead in her home, having bled to death from nine stab wounds. When investigators arrived at the scene, they found her home ransacked in several areas and appearing as though it had been forcibly entered. The Butler County Coroner examined the victim's body and stated that she likely died no earlier than approximately 4:00 p.m. on the preceding day.

{¶ 3} While at the scene, investigators retrieved a number of latent fingerprints and submitted them to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation for analysis. Investigators compared these fingerprints with those of various suspects and other persons having business at the victim's residence. The comparisons revealed no matches and the fingerprints remained unidentified for 13 years.

{¶ 4} In the summer of 1998, some of the latent prints were entered into an online automated fingerprint identification system that had just become available. This new system identified Walls's fingerprints as a good match. After a visual comparison and subsequent analysis by an FBI specialist in Washington, D.C., experts discovered that Walls's fingerprints matched those on a coin jar found in the victim's basement, on a fondue pot in the kitchen pantry, on the storm door, and on a cup and a dish lying on the floor.

{¶ 5} Following this discovery, the investigators located Walls for questioning. Walls, who was 15 years old at the time of the murder, stated that he had never been to the victim's home or to any other home on that street. Investigators learned however, that Walls had attended school only 436 yards from the victim's home on the day of the murder.

{¶ 6} The Butler County Grand Jury indicted Walls on November 13, 1998, for aggravated murder in violation of R.C. 2903.01(B). Even though Walls was a minor at the time of the alleged murder, the versions of R.C. 2151.011(B)(6)(c) and 2151.23(I) then in effect allowed the state to try Walls as an adult. See 147 Ohio Laws, Part II, 3421-34221; 146 Ohio Laws, Part II, 2054.2 Walls moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that the 1985 version of R.C. 2151.011(B)(1) should control his disposition rather than the 1997 statutes. Under the 1985 law, Walls could not be tried as an adult until a juvenile court had first bound him over for trial to the general division of the court of common pleas. See former R.C. 2151.011(B)(1), 140 Ohio Laws, Part I, 584.3 Walls also moved to dismiss the indictment on the ground that the delay between the offense charged and the indictment was so great that he was prejudiced by the disappearance of evidence implicating another person in the crime. The trial court denied both motions and tried Walls as an adult. Walls was ultimately convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

{¶ 7} Walls appealed his conviction, raising the issues of retroactive application of the law, preindictment delay, and prosecutorial misconduct. The appellate court affirmed the conviction, and the cause is now before this court pursuant to the allowance of a discretionary appeal.


{¶ 8} Walls urges us to void the conviction against him, arguing that the court of common pleas, general division, lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear his case. At the center of this jurisdictional argument is his belief that application of the 1997 statutes, R.C. 2151.26 and 2151.011(B)(6), violated the Retroactivity Clause of the Ohio Constitution. Though 29 years old at the time of indictment, Walls contends that he had a right to juvenile treatment under the law as it existed at the time of the offense in 1985. He insists that the amended statutes are unconstitutionally retroactive as applied to his situation because, without benefit of those statutes, the common pleas court lacked jurisdiction to try him as an adult unless there had first been a bindover proceeding in the juvenile court. See State v. Wilson (1995), 73 Ohio St.3d 40, 652 N.E.2d 196, paragraph one of the syllabus.


{¶ 9} "Retroactive laws and retrospective application of laws have received the near universal distrust of civilizations." Van Fossen v. Babcock & Wilcox Co. (1988), 36 Ohio St.3d 100, 104, 522 N.E.2d 489; see, also, Landgraf v. USI Film Products (1994), 511 U.S. 244, 265, 114 S.Ct. 1483, 128 L.Ed.2d 229 (noting that "the presumption against retroactive legislation is deeply rooted in our jurisprudence, and embodies a legal doctrine centuries older than our Republic"). In recognition of the "possibility of the unjustness of retroactive legislation," Van Fossen, 36 Ohio St.3d at 104, 522 N.E.2d 489, Section 28, Article II of the Ohio Constitution provides that the General Assembly "shall have no power to pass retroactive laws." It is now settled in Ohio that a statute runs afoul of this provision if it "`takes away or impairs vested rights acquired under existing laws, or creates a new obligation, imposes a new duty, or attaches a new disability, in respect to transactions or considerations already past.'" Van Fossen, 36 Ohio St.3d at 106, 522 N.E.2d 489, quoting Cincinnati v. Seasongood (1889), 46 Ohio St. 296, 303, 21 N.E. 630; accord Bielat v. Bielat (2000), 87 Ohio St.3d 350, 354, 721 N.E.2d 28; State v. Cook (1998), 83 Ohio St.3d 404, 411, 700 N.E.2d 570.

{¶ 10} This court has articulated a two-part framework, involving both statutory and constitutional analyses, for determining whether a statute is impermissibly retroactive under Section 28, Article II. Because R.C. 1.48 establishes a presumption that statutes operate prospectively only, "[t]he issue of whether a statute may constitutionally be applied retrospectively does not arise unless there has been a prior determination that the General Assembly specified that the statute so apply." Van Fossen, 36 Ohio St.3d 100, 522 N.E.2d 489, paragraph one of the syllabus. If there is no "`clear indication of retroactive application, then the statute may only apply to cases which arise subsequent to its enactment.'" (Emphasis sic.) Id. at 106, 522 N.E.2d 489, quoting Kiser v. Coleman (1986), 28 Ohio St.3d 259, 262, 28 OBR 337, 503 N.E.2d 753. If we can find, however, a "clearly expressed legislative intent" that a statute apply retroactively, we proceed to the second step, which entails an analysis of whether the challenged statute is substantive or remedial. Cook, 83 Ohio St.3d at 410, 700 N.E.2d 570; see, also, Van Fossen, 36 Ohio St.3d 100, 522 N.E.2d 489, paragraph two of the syllabus.

{¶ 11} In applying the analytic framework of Van Fossen and its progeny, the court of appeals found that the amended statutes did not apply retrospectively and therefore declined to undertake the second step of the Van Fossen analysis. The court reasoned:

{¶ 12} "The current version of R.C. 2151.011(B)(6)(c) determines the present jurisdiction of the court of common pleas general division by looking to the charged individual's age at the time of the complaint or indictment. This section makes irrelevant any consideration of the accused's age at the time he committed the crime. Thus, by its very terms, the statute relies on no factor that would extend back in time before the date of its 1997 amendment. We hold that the statute was intended to operate prospectively to confer jurisdiction on the general division of the court of common pleas regardless of whether the juvenile was under the age of eighteen at the time he or she committed the crime." (Emphasis added.)

{¶ 13} From this analysis, it is evident that the court of appeals viewed the date on which criminal proceedings commenced against Walls as the relevant date of assessing whether the amended juvenile statutes operated prospectively or retrospectively. And although the court of appeals cited none, there exists some authority that arguably supports this approach. See, e.g., State ex rel. Plavcan v. School Emp. Retirement Sys. of Ohio (1994), 71 Ohio St.3d 240, 243, 643 N.E.2d 122 ("Statutes that reference past events to establish current status have been held not to be retroactive"); Cox v. Hart (1922), 260 U.S. 427, 435, 43 S.Ct. 154, 67 L.Ed. 332 ("A statute is not made retroactive merely because it draws upon antecedent facts for its operation"); see, also, French v. Dwiggins (1984), 9 Ohio St.3d 32, 39, 9 OBR 123, 458 N.E.2d 827 (Holmes, J., dissenting) ("If there is no specific expression by the General Assembly that the statute is to be retrospective in its application * * *, the statute will be applied to causes of action arising subsequent to the effective date of the legislation")....

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