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Date: 05-02-2021

Case Style:

STATE OF OHIO VS. WILLIAM SMITH

Case Number: C-190558

Judge: Pierre H. Bergeron

Court: IN THE COURT OF APPEALS FIRST APPELLATE DISTRICT OF OHIO HAMILTON COUNTY, OHIO

Plaintiff's Attorney: Joseph T. Deters, Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney, and Philip R. Cummings,
Assistant Prosecuting Attorney

Defendant's Attorney:


Criminal Defense Lawyer Directory


Description:

Cincinnati, Ohio - Criminal defense attorney represented William Smith with an application for postconviction DNA testing.



{¶1} The statute that provides for applications for DNA testing for criminal
defendants mandates that, in pertinent part, the trial court must explain “the reasons
for the acceptance or rejection” of the application. R.C. 2953.73(D). The trial court
here rejected defendant-appellant William Smith’s application for postconviction
DNA testing without any hint of an explanation. Because the trial court failed to
comply with the express terms of the statute, we must remand this case on that
narrow basis.
{¶2} In 2015, Mr. Smith was charged with killing two lifelong friends, Ms.
Owens (age 57) and Mr. Jackson (age 72), in his apartment. Mr. Smith did not deny
that he killed his friends, but insisted that he acted in self-defense. At his trial in
2017, the jury rejected Mr. Smith’s self-defense theory and convicted him on two
counts of murder. On appeal, we affirmed those convictions. State v. Smith, 1st Dist.
Hamilton No. C-170028, 2018-Ohio-2504, ¶ 74.
{¶3} After losing his appeal, Mr. Smith again sought to demonstrate that he
acted in self-defense by filing a request, under R.C. 2953.71 et seq., to have DNA
testing done on several items of clothing. He reasons that testing the bloodstains on
the clothes will show that he “was in a defense position.” The trial court denied the
request with a two-sentence order, simply stating that the application was not well
taken. Mr. Smith now appeals that denial, presenting two assignments of error.
{¶4} In his first assignment of error, Mr. Smith argues that the trial court
erred by not explaining why it denied his DNA request. “We review the trial court’s
denial of an eligible offender’s application for DNA testing for an abuse of
discretion.” State v. Conner, 2020-Ohio-4310, 158 N.E.3d 162, ¶ 12 (8th Dist.), OHIO FIRST DISTRICT COURT OF APPEALS
3
citing R.C. 2953.74(A); State v. Widmer, 12th Dist. Warren No. CA2012-02-008,
2013-Ohio-62, ¶ 111 (same).
{¶5} R.C. 2953.73(D) provides, in relevant part: “If an eligible offender
submits an application for DNA testing * * * the court shall make the determination
as to whether the application should be accepted or rejected.” Furthermore, “[u]pon
making its determination, the court shall enter a judgment * * * that includes * * *
the reasons for the acceptance or rejection * * * .” Id.
{¶6} That is not to say that formal findings of fact and conclusions of law
are required. State v. Price, 165 Ohio App.3d 198, 2006-Ohio-180, 845 N.E.2d 559,
¶ 13 (1st Dist.) (“ ‘Reasons’ for the trial court’s denial of an application for DNA
testing are not required to be put forth in the format of findings of fact and
conclusions of law * * * .”); see State v. Scott, 12th Dist. Butler No. CA2020-01-007,
2020-Ohio-5302, ¶ 56 (“[A] court dismissing a petition for postconviction DNA
testing is not required to issue specific findings of fact and conclusions of law.”). But
“more is required than [a] cursory statement * * * .” Price at ¶ 13; see Scott at ¶ 56
(“The decision need only set [forth] ‘the reasons’ as applied to the statutory criteria,
which are, for the most part, set forth in R.C. 2953.74(B) and (C).”).
{¶7} We need not ponder here how much detail is needed because the trial
court’s entry provided no reason at all for denying Mr. Smith’s DNA request. The
entry merely stated: “The court, after being fully advised, finds the application to be
not well taken, and hereby rejects [the] same.” It may be that Mr. Smith’s request is
unjustified. But “failure to provide an explanation for rejecting a defendant’s
application under R.C. 2953.73(D) is contrary to law and constitutes an abuse of
discretion.” Conner, 2020-Ohio-4310, 158 N.E.3d 162, at ¶ 14 (citing cases); Price at OHIO FIRST DISTRICT COURT OF APPEALS
4
¶ 12 (“Because it provided no reasons, even though it was required to do so, we are
unable to properly review the trial court’s denial of [the defendant’s] application for
DNA testing.”). The statutorily-commanded reasons help facilitate appellate review
by revealing why the trial court ruled the way it did. Based on the plain language of
the statute, we sustain Mr. Smith’s first assignment of error.
{¶8} The failure of the trial court to comply with the statute obviates our
need to consider the merits of Mr. Smith’s appeal. In his second assignment of error,
Mr. Smith appears to argue that the trial court should have granted his DNA request
based on ineffective assistance of counsel. However, because we sustain Mr. Smith’s
first assignment of error, we deem this assignment of error moot.

Outcome: We therefore remand this cause with instructions for the trial court to
provide an explanation for its denial of Mr. Smith’s DNA-testing request.

Judgment remanded.

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