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Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Conviction Vacated for Man Who Did Not Receive Specifics About Child Abduction Charges

The Supreme Court of Ohio today vacated the abduction conviction of a Wood County man after the prosecutor’s office refused to provide him a bill of particulars specifying what conduct constituted the criminal offense.

In a 5-2 decision, the Supreme Court found the trial court and prosecutor failed to follow the state constitution, a state law, criminal procedural rules, and Ohio case law when refusing to provide Ernie Haynes with a bill of particulars detailing the charges against him.

Writing for the Court majority, Justice Jennifer Brunner stated that “Haynes clearly did not understand how he would have ‘abducted’ his deceased, unmarried daughter’s children who lived and stayed with him after she died of a drug overdose.” The Court noted it was not until closing arguments of Haynes’ trial that Haynes learned that buckling his three grandchildren into their child-safety car seats was considered taking the children by force, which led to the abduction conviction.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Michael P. Donnelly and Melody Stewart joined Justice Brunner’s opinion. Justice Patrick F. Fischer concurred in judgment only.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice R. Patrick DeWine agreed with the majority that the prosecutor was required to provide Haynes with a bill of particulars but failed to do so. He concluded, however, that this failure should not result in vacating Haynes’s conviction. Justice DeWine wrote that Haynes was not prejudiced by the inaction because he was provided all the information in discovery that would have been included in a bill of particulars.

Justice Sharon L. Kennedy joined Justice DeWine’s dissent.

Death Leads to Custody Dispute
Jennifer Haynes died of a drug overdose in December 2017. James Hill-Hernandez was the likely biological father of three of her youngest children. The boys mostly lived with their grandparents, Ernie Haynes and his wife, in Wood County. Haynes and Hill-Hernandez became embroiled in a custody dispute shortly after Jennifer’s funeral.

The day after the funeral, Dec. 19, 2017, Hill-Hernandez sought custody of the children in Fostoria where he lived. He received an ex parte temporary custody order from the Seneca County Juvenile Court for the three boys. Haynes was not served with notice.

Shortly after, Haynes filed his own temporary custody order and supported his request with allegations that Hill-Hernandez was an unfit parent. Two days after granting the father temporary custody, the juvenile court responded to Haynes, indicating the court did not have enough information to grant his custody request and notified him that the court set a January hearing date for the matter.

Haynes ignored notifications from Hill-Hernandez regarding custody. On the day Hill-Hernandez was granted custody, two of the children were at the home of John Decker, who was father to one of Jennifer’s other children, and one boy was at school. The three children frequently stayed at Decker’s home. Haynes picked up the two children from Decker’s house and his wife picked up the eldest of the three at school, and they took the children back to their Wood County home.

On Dec. 21, the grandparents received an invitation from a family member in nearby McComb in Hancock County to spend the Christmas holidays with them, and they took the children to the relatives’ home. Hill-Hernandez complained to law enforcement.

On Dec. 27, while packing up their vehicle to leave McComb, Haynes was arrested and charged with six counts of abduction, two counts for each child.

Charges Vary, Bill of Particulars Denied
In February 2018, a grand jury charged Haynes with three counts of abduction, alleging he removed the children “by threat or force” from the father’s custody. Three other charges alleged he removed the children “by force or threat,” and under the circumstances that “created a risk of physical harm” to the grandchildren or placed them in fear. Haynes pleaded not guilty.

Six weeks after the indictment, Haynes requested a bill of particulars asking for the exact nature of the offenses charged, the conduct that constituted the offenses, and the time the offenses allegedly took place.

The Wood County Prosecutor’s Office did not provide it. Two months later, Haynes asked the Wood County Common Pleas Court to order the prosecutor to provide the bill of particulars.

The trial court denied the motion, and a subsequent one filed by Haynes in July 2018. The prosecutor maintained that it provided “open-file discovery,” in which Haynes and his legal counsel had full access to the evidence the prosecution was going to use to argue for his conviction. The trial court agreed that when the prosecutor provides open-file discovery, a defendant is not entitled to a bill of particulars.

The original charges against Haynes state that around Dec. 21 to Dec. 27, Haynes abducted the children, which is about the time the family was in McComb. On the morning of the Haynes trial, the prosecutor voluntarily dismissed the three charges alleging Haynes abducted the children and created a risk of physical harm.

The prosecutor also amended the charges to argue that beginning on Dec. 19, Haynes abducted the children by force or threat. During closing arguments, the prosecutor alleged Haynes used force to remove the children by buckling them into their seat belts after he picked up two of the kids at Decker’s house and his wife picked up the third at school.

Haynes argued there was no force or threat, and that his case was hampered by the prosecutor’s failing to reveal this theory until the last stages of the trial. Without the bill of particulars, he maintained he could not provide an adequate defense. The jury convicted Haynes of the three remaining abduction charges.

Haynes appealed to the Sixth District Court of Appeals, which affirmed his conviction. Haynes appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.

Supreme Court Examined Notice Requirements
While the Sixth District found that Haynes received sufficient details of the charges against him through discovery, the Supreme Court noted that more is expected when a criminal defendant makes a written request for information. Justice Brunner explained that Article 1, Section 10 of the Ohio Constitution gives the accused a right to receive a copy of the “nature and cause of the accusation” against the accused. In the 1940s, Ohio adopted the practice of other federal and state courts by presenting the accusations in a bill of particulars.

Since then, state lawmakers enacted R.C. 2941.07, which requires prosecutors to provide a bill of particulars upon written request from the accused, and the courts adopted Rule 7(E) of the Ohio Rules of Criminal Procedure, which establishes the right of a defendant to obtain a bill of particulars.

In Haynes’ case, the Court wrote, the charges were “exceedingly vague,” and based on the dates of the indictment it was not clear how Haynes knowingly used force or threat to remove his grandchildren from their father’s custody.

Haynes had a right to know when the offenses allegedly occurred, which was not made known until the morning of his trial, and specifically what conduct he engaged in that the state alleged was a criminal offense, the Court explained.

“Not only did Haynes have a constitutional right to know, but the state had an obligation, based on a criminal rule, a statute, and multiple unequivocal decisions of this court, to produce a bill of particulars telling him what he had a right to know,” the opinion stated.

The Court vacated Haynes’ conviction and remanded the matter to the trial court for further proceedings.

Conviction Should Stand, Dissent Stated
In his dissent, Justice DeWine wrote that Haynes’s conviction should stand for two reasons. First, his argument before the Supreme Court was different than at the Sixth District. Justice DeWine also noted that information about the conduct underlying the offense was in the witness statements and police reports the prosecutors provided to Haynes, and nothing in a bill of particulars would have provided additional information.

The dissent pointed out that at the Sixth District, Haynes argued he was deprived of a fair trial because he did not receive a bill of particulars that stated the time and place of the alleged offenses. But before the Supreme Court, he made a new argument that he was not notified of what constituted “force” due to the absence of the bill of particulars. Because Haynes did not raise the force issue before the Sixth District, he forfeited that argument on appeal to the Supreme Court, Justice DeWine concluded.

Additionally, the Supreme Court does not reverse a lower court’s decision unless the defendant shows the error affected the outcome of the case, Justice DeWine noted. “The majority tries to dance around the prejudice issue,” but Haynes has failed to prove he suffered any prejudice by not receiving a bill of particulars, the dissent stated.

The dissent noted that the indictment provided to Haynes described the charges against him. And the underlying conduct for the offenses—including a description of what would constitute “force”—was available to Haynes through police reports and witness statements provided to him during the discovery process. Therefore, “Haynes already had the information that he requested,” the dissent stated.

The dissent noted that when the specific facts that would be provided in a bill of particulars is made readily available to the defendant through discovery, then the defendant suffers no prejudice.

“That is plainly the case here,” the dissent concluded.

2021-0215. State v. Haynes, Slip Opinion No. 2022-Ohio-4473.

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