Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Nursing Home Aide’s 65-Year Prison Sentence Reversed Again

For the second time, the Supreme Court of Ohio reversed an appeals court decision concerning a former nursing home aide’s prison sentence for stealing personal items from 46 residents at nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Delaware and Franklin counties.

In a 4-3 decision, the Supreme Court found that trial courts must consider the overall aggregate prison term when imposing consecutive sentences. The Court also found that the Fifth District Court of Appeals erred when it decided that it had no authority to review and vacate Susan Gwynne’s sentence of 65 years in prison for 31 felony and 15 misdemeanor counts for which she agreed to plead guilty.

The Court remanded the case to the Fifth District to properly consider the imposition of consecutive sentences which yielded 65 years in prison for the then 55-year-old woman.

Writing for the Court majority, Justice Melody Stewart stated that when reviewing a trial court’s imposition of consecutive sentences, appellate courts are not required to be deferential to the trial court findings under the consecutive sentencing statute

Aide Charged With Multiple Thefts
Between 2008 and 2016, Gwynne stole items from residents while working as a nurse’s aide or pretending to be a nurse’s aide. In 2016, she was charged with 86 felony counts and several misdemeanors. She agreed to plead guilty to a reduced number of charges. The Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office recommended a 42-year prison term. The trial court imposed prison sentences ranging from one to three years for each felony count and ordered the sentences to run consecutively for a total 65-year sentence.

Gwynne Appealed Her Sentence
In 2019, the Supreme Court remanded Gwynne’s conviction to the Fifth District, which had reduced Gwynne’s sentence to 15 years. The Supreme Court ruled that the Fifth District used the wrong standards to reduce the sentence. After the case was remanded, the Fifth District responded that it had to defer to the trial court’s 65-year sentence.

The Court today indicated the Fifth District was incorrect, and that under R.C. 2953.08(G)(2), it could modify Gwynne’s sentence if it decides “the record clearly and convincingly does not support the consecutive-sentence findings.”

The case was again remanded to the Fifth District to analyze Gwynne’s sentence using R.C. 2953.08(G)(2).

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justice Jennifer Brunner joined Justice Stewart’s opinion. Eleventh District Court of Appeals Judge Mary Jane Trapp, sitting for Justice Michael P. Donnelly, also joined Justice Stewart’s opinion.

Court Properly Sentenced Woman
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Sharon L. Kennedy wrote that while the Court can debate the “wisdom of the sentences imposed and whether the sentences were prudent,” the trial court followed the law, and the Fifth District properly reviewed the case.

She wrote that the plain language of R.C. 2953.08(G)(2) requires an appellate court to defer to a trial court’s consecutive-sentence findings unless those findings are clearly unsupported by the record.    Appellate review of a trial court’s consecutive sentence findings de novo is contrary to the language of R.C. 2953.08(G)(2), the dissent stated

The dissent also stated that the language of R.C. 2929.14(C)(4) does not require the trial court to consider the aggregate prison term it will impose when making necessity and proportionality findings. When the appellate court reviews those consecutive sentences, it must consider whether the trial court considered the aggregate prison term.

And the dissent stated that the majority opinion was beyond the scope of this appeal as Gwynne never argued that R.C. 2929.14(C)(4) requires both trial and appellate courts to consider a defendant’s aggregate prison term when imposing or reviewing consecutive sentences. The Fifth District properly applied the correct standard or review and affirmed the trial court’s imposition of consecutive sentences,  the dissent concluded.

2021-1033. State v. Gwynne, Slip Opinion No. 2022-Ohio-4607.

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