Update: On December 6, 2012, the Supreme Court handed down a merit decision in this case. Read the analysis here.
Read the analysis of the oral argument in this case here.
On August 21, 2012, the Supreme Court of Ohio will hear oral argument in the case of State of Ohio v. Kyle D. Raber, 2011-1383. The main issue in this case is whether the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to reopen the case after the final judgment entry was journalized in order to hold an evidentiary hearing on whether Raber had to register as a sex offender. Relatedly, were Raber’s constitutional rights violated when the trial court reopened the case for this purpose.
Kyle Raber pled guilty to sexual imposition – a third-degree misdemeanor – against his ex-girlfriend in 2008. Pursuant to a plea agreement, Raber’s sentence included jail time, probation, a fine, and community service. At the sentencing hearing, the trial court expressed uncertainty about whether Raber would be required to register as a sex offender and took the matter under advisement with the agreement of the parties. The court requested briefs on this issue, but none were filed. The court determined that Raber would be required to register as a sex offender only if the conduct underlying his conviction was non-consensual. This sentence was journalized in December 2008, and no appeal was taken from it. The sentencing entry is silent on the sexual registration issue. The case was re-opened eleven months later, and after an evidentiary hearing (by a different judge) the court concluded that the conduct was not consensual and required Raber to register as a Tier 1 sex offender.
Raber appealed this decision, and the Ninth District Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that the trial court had sufficient jurisdiction to proceed as it did. It held that a determination that a defendant is a sex offender is separate and distinct from the criminal judgment of conviction and sentence. Additionally, the Court of Appeals held that by failing to raise his constitutional claims in the lower court, Raber effectively waived them.
After originally turning this case down, the Supreme Court of Ohio granted Raber’s motion for reconsideration and accepted his discretionary appeal.
Raber first argues that the trial court lacked the requisite subject matter jurisdiction to reopen the case after the final judgment entry was journalized. He relies on State v. Carlisle for the proposition that a trial court is divested of jurisdiction over a case after the final entry is journalized by the clerk of courts and that a trial court lacks the authority to modify a final criminal judgment, even for error in the entry. Raber contends that the case was closed in December of 2008.
Raber further argues that the trial court improperly held the sex offender registration hearing. He urges the Court to find that the 2008 Judgment Entry closed the case, and that because the sex offender classification hearing was governed by the criminal sentencing, which the state did not appeal, the hearing came improperly after the final judgment.
Finally, Raber contends that his right to Due Process and the ban on Double Jeopardy under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution require a reversal of the lower court’s decision. Once divested of jurisdiction, Raber argues, trial courts cannot reopen cases and add further punishment to a defendant’s original sentence. Because the State failed to bring the issue until after the case was closed, Raber urges the Supreme Court to reverse the Ninth District Court of Appeals’ decision and vacate the trial court’s post-judgment determinations.
In addressing the issues on appeal, the State argues that this case should be dismissed as improvidently accepted. To the extent that Raber had a right to be adjudicated a sex offender at the same time he was sentenced, the State contends that his agreement to have a later hearing on the issue and serve his jail sentence between college semesters constitutes a waiver of his right. Rather than objecting to the bifurcated process, Raber agreed to it and benefitted by it.
Furthermore, the State argues that the 2008 sentencing order, while a final appealable order, was not a final order in the sense that it ended the case; it imposed part of Raber’s sentence and contained a correctable clerical omission that the trial court had jurisdiction to correct. The entry merely determined issues related to sentencing, while both parties stipulated that the sex offender registration issue would be decided at a later date.
In response to Raber’s constitutional claims on appeal, the State argues that it would be improper to find such violations ensuing from an agreement that benefited Raber. The Double Jeopardy Clause precludes multiple punishments for the same offense, but since Raber was neither retried nor resentenced and the determination of his punishment was only postponed, his case does not fall under the constraints of this clause.
Finally, the State argues that any error made was harmless, as no one disputes the fact that Raber should have been adjudicated a sex offender, and so the trial court reached the proper outcome. Urging the court that Raber raises no substantial constitutional questions, nor points to any harm suffered from the delayed hearing, the State asks that the Court of Appeals’ decision be affirmed.
Student Contributor: Elizabeth Chesnut