Recent Ohio Supreme Court Decision Broadens Ohioans’ Rights from Warrantless Police Searches


Major Win For Ohioans, Ohio Supreme Court Rules On Protection of Privacy

On June 28, 2022 the Ohio Supreme Court released their majority opinion with an unanimous 7-0 decision, on the case of Ohio v. Burroughs. Click here to read the decision. The case involved police officers arriving at the defendant’s household to execute an arrest warrant. Soon after, Police Officers forcefully entered the household when they believed the destruction of evidence was underway. Once the defendant was arrested and detained, the police conducted a protective sweep of the premises. During this sweep an officer found a book bag and opened it to search for weapons, instead a bag of marijuana was recovered.

At trial, the prosecution was able to overcome the defense’s motion to suppress and introduce the recovered contents of the book bag into the record. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the opening of the backpack was a violation of her 4th amendment right of protection against warrantless searches. The lower courts agreed with the prosecutor’s argument that no warrant was needed under the constitution because of the single-purpose-container exception.

The Ohio Supreme Court rejected the use of the single use exception in this scenario. The single use exception has been sparingly applied where the container itself speaks for content’s inside. Meaning a police officer just by looking at the object, could conclude what’s inside of it. Some examples of this exception hypothetically could be: a gun holster, a pack of cigarettes, a tuba case. No warrants are needed in cases involving these types of items because there is no privacy to protect due to the fact the object already showed itself by the container. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the book bag that was searched, could have contained anything.

Privacy Of Book Bag Contents

This was displayed by the fact that from officer’s plain view of the book bag, he could not have reasonably determined that anything inside of the bag was illegal. So by this fact, the book bag did not meet the criteria of the single-purpose container exception. Even furthering the defense’s case the court reasoned that, a book bag, does not let someone know what is inside of a book bag just because it’s a book bag. Therefore the defendant was entitled to the protection of privacy of the contents of the book bag which could have only been overcome by a warrant.

The Ohio Supreme Court not deciding with The State is a major win for Ohioans. If the Court would have accepted their argument that the “totality of the circumstances” must be taken into account when an officer is trying to determine what’s in the bag. Then the rule, a warrant is required to search a seized item, is no longer The Rule.

Publisher’s Note:

I want to thank our new law clerk at HCM&M, Connor Zamilski, for his assistance in writing this post! Well done, Connor!

We are experienced Dayton traffic and criminal defense lawyers

Our experienced Dayton traffic and criminal defense lawyers at Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues are here for you. We can assist you with better understanding of possible defenses to any criminal action! To learn more, please go to our website at or call us at 937 293-2141. We can schedule an in-person conference or one by phone or Zoom. We look forward to helping you!

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manson-bryant-ohio-profane outburst

Why A Ohio Trial Court Cannot Sentence Someone To More Time Based on Outbursts

In March 2019, a Lake County trial court handed down a 22-year sentence to Manson Bryant for his involvement in an armed burglary of an occupied trailer home. Bryant’s response to the sentence made national news when he uttered a variety of profanities and called the trial judge a racist. Because of Bryant’s outburst, the trial judge added six additional years to Bryant’s sentence for a total of 28 years behind bars. However, on June 7, 2022, the Ohio Supreme Court determined that the trial judge could not increase Bryant’s sentence merely because of his reaction to the sentence. Click here to read the full case.

The Facts:

In October 2018, a Lake County grand jury indicted Manson Bryant for seven criminal counts relating to his involvement in the armed burglary of the occupied trailer home. Bryant pleaded not guilty to all counts and the matter proceeded to trial. Bryant was found guilty on all counts.

On March 1, 2019, some of Bryant’s counts were merged, such that Bryant was charged, and sentenced for Count One, aggravated burglary; Count Three, aggravated robbery; Count Six, having weapons while under a disability; and Count Seven, carrying concealed weapons.

At his sentencing hearing, Bryant’s attorney reminded the court that Bryant merely aided and abetted the co-defendant in the commission of the offense. Since Bryant’s co-defendant received only 12 years for the crimes, Bryant’s attorney requested that Bryant receive 10 years in prison for his participation in the crime.

Manson Bryant then addressed the court and requested leniency. He indicated that his drug addiction is the instigator of many of his poor decisions. However, Bryant told the court that he respected the jury’s decision and would respect whatever sentence the judge handed down.

After the State requested that Bryant receive a 20-year sentence, the judge handed down a sentence of 22 years. As the judge finished announcing the sentence, Bryant called the judge a variety of profanities and called the judge racist. The judge then stated that he was mistaken to believe that Bryant was remorseful for his crimes and tacked on an additional 6 years to Bryant’s sentence for a total of 28 years in prison. On March 4, 2019, approximately 3 days after Bryant’s sentencing hearing, the sentencing judgment was journalized.

Bryant’s Appeal to the Eleventh District Court of Appeals:

In his appeal to the Eleventh District Court of Appeals, Manson Bryant argued that the trial court should not have added six additional years to his sentence. While Bryant acknowledged that he could have received contempt charges for his outburst, he argued that his profane outburst did not indicate that he was not remorseful for his crimes.

The Eleventh District Court of Appeals relied heavily on State v. Thompson, 11th Dist. Lake No. 2017-Ohio-1001. In Thompson, the trial court added time to a defendant’s sentence after an emotional outburst. Since the sentence had not been officially journalized, the trial court could add time to a defendant’s sentence.

Additionally, the Eleventh District noted that Bryant’s outburst merely demonstrated that his statements at his sentencing were not genuine. However, the outburst did not indicate that he was not remorseful for the crimes he helped commit. Thus, the Eleventh District affirmed Bryant’s conviction and sentence. Bryant then filed a pro se appeal to the Supreme Court of Ohio.

The Main Issue before the Supreme Court of Ohio:

The main issue before the Supreme Court of Ohio was whether Bryant’s outburst warrants adding prison time to a defendant’s sentence under R.C. 2929.11 and 2929.12.

The Supreme Court of Ohio’s Holding:

The Supreme Court determined that Bryant’s outburst did not warrant adding prison time to his sentence. While the court recognized that Bryant’s outburst was certainly disrespectful to the trial court, the court indicated that his outburst was merely a reaction to the sentence and nothing more. Since the statements did not relate to the crime committed or the victims involved, the statements could not be construed as demonstrating a lack of remorse.

Further, the Supreme Court of Ohio questioned the trial judge’s motives in sentencing Bryant for the additional six years. While the Supreme Court noted that the trial court is not required to explain their findings, such a severe addition to Bryant’s sentence should have been explained by the trial judge. Particularly, the judge should have explained why Bryant’s outburst made him believe that Bryant no longer showed remorse for his crimes.

Additionally, the Supreme Court of Ohio noted the incongruity between the trial court’s findings before and after Bryant’s outburst. Before Bryant’s profane outburst, the trial court acknowledged that Bryant exhibited remorse for his crimes. After his outburst, the trial court determined that Bryant showed no remorse. This immediate switch in the trial court’s belief of the defendant’s remorsefulness concerned the Supreme Court of Ohio. As the Supreme Court of Ohio noted, an examination of Bryant’s statements during his outburst demonstrate that he still exhibited the same level of remorsefulness.

The Supreme Court of Ohio thus determined that Bryant’s statements were merely disruptive and disrespectful. Since these kinds of statements are not sentencing factors for the trial court to consider under R.C. 2929.11 and 2929.12, the six-year increase to Bryant’s sentence was contrary to law. Therefore, the Supreme Court of Ohio reversed Bryant’s sentence to the originally imposed sentence of 22 years.

The Dissent:

Justice Kennedy’s dissent indicates that a defendant’s outburst, depending on the type of outburst, should be considered when determining whether a defendant is genuinely remorseful or not. When Bryant’s remorsefulness was considered, the trial court had not made its final order. Thus, the trial court had authority to modify the sentence.

Further, Justice Kennedy indicated that the Supreme Court of Ohio should not even be reviewing this case. In his dissenting opinion, Justice Kennedy cites State v. Jones. In Jones, the Supreme Court of Ohio determined that an appellate court is prohibited from modifying or vacating a sentence “based on a lack of support in the record for the trial court’s findings under R.C. 2929.11 and 2929.12.” State v. Bryant, Slip Opinion No. 2022-Ohio-1878 ¶ 19. Since the Supreme Court of Ohio is essentially required to evaluate the trial court’s findings under R.C. 2929.11 and 2929.12, Justice Kennedy argued that the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled contrary to the Jones decision.

The Implications:

Overall, the Supreme Court of Ohio’s recent decision indicates that a defendant cannot be punished with additional prison time for a profane outburst in response to a sentence. Additionally, the holding indicates that a profane outburst cannot be considered as a lack of remorse for a crime committed. While such outbursts are certainly not encouraged and might still be grounds for a contempt charge, a trial court cannot sentence someone to more time based on these outbursts.

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: I want to thank our Summer law extern Mackenzie Reiber for writing this blog post! Well done Mack! Mackenzie is now back at the University of Dayton School of Law and will be graduating law school in May of 2023. We will all miss you!

We are experienced Dayton traffic and criminal defense lawyers

Our experienced Dayton traffic and criminal defense lawyers at Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues are here for you. We can assist you with better understanding of possible defenses to any criminal action! To learn more, please go to our website at or call us at 937 293-2141. We can schedule an in-person conference or one by phone or Zoom. We look forward to helping you!

Tell Us About Your Case.

Sentencing Issues Continue to Cause Confusion

When the General Assembly enacted H.B. 86, effective September 30, 2011, the goal was to reduce the prison population.  The legislature had realized that the war on drugs couldn’t be paid for anymore.  Ohio’s prison population had exploded and the costs of housing all these non-violent folks had become untenable.  Those in power finally realized that it might not be the best idea to throw everyone in prison for long periods of time for low-level felonies like drug possession and thefts.  So, H.B. 86 overhauled Ohio’s felony sentencing structure.  Among other things, the general assembly created mandatory probation for certain offenders, revised judicial release provisions, and raised threshold amounts of money for certain crimes like theft.

Under the old law, if a person stole $500 or more, that was a felony of the fifth degree.  Under the new law, one had to steal $1,000 for it to be a felony, otherwise its a misdemeanor of the 1st degree.  Although inflation had obviously been running its course over the many years, the statutory amounts had not kept pace.  $500 simply wasn’t what it used to be.   The maximum penalty for a 5th degree felony is up to 12 months in a state prison.  The maximum penalty for a 1st degree misdemeanor is 180 days in a local jail.

But there have been questions related to timing of the new provisions.  If someone stole $600 prior to September 30, 2011, but was not sentenced until after H.B. 86 took effect, is he subject to 12 months in prison or 6 months in a jail?  Could you convict him of a felony, but only sentence him for a misdemeanor?  The Ohio Supreme Court directly addressed these issues in State v. Taylor, decided February 13, 2013.

In July 2011, Taylor stole $550 worth of cologne from a department store.  Yes, that’s right.  Taylor is probably the last man you would want to share a cab or an elevator with.   At the time he committed the offense, he would be considered a felon and subject to 12 months in prison.  However, by the time his sentencing hearing took place, H.B. 86 had been enacted.  The trial court determined that not only was he subject to the lesser penalty of 180 days in jail, but that he had to be considered a misdemeanant as well, not a felon, and entered a conviction for a misdemeanor.

The State of Ohio appealed and the Ninth District Court of Appeals reversed, deciding that while he was entitled to benefit from the lower penalty, he had to be convicted of the felony.  This may seem academic in some respects given that he could only be sentenced for a misdemeanor, but potential employers tend to look harsher upon “convicted felons.”  This decision was in direct conflict with decisions out of the 5th District and the Ohio Supreme Court took the case as a certified conflict between different Appellant courts.

The Ohio Supreme Court reversed the Ninth District and agreed that Taylor was entitled to be convicted of a misdemeanor.  Although he had committed the offense prior to the enacted of H.B. 86, because he wasn’t sentenced until after that went into effect, R.C. 1.58(B) applied.

R.C. 1.58(B) states: “If the penalty, forfeiture or punishment for any offense is reduced by a reenactment or amendment of a statute, the penalty, forfeiture, or punishment, if not already imposed, shall be imposed according to the statute as amended.”

The State had argued that R.C. 1.58(B) applied only to punishments for an offense and not the category or degree of an offense.  Therefore, Taylor should have been convicted of a felony and sentenced for a misdemeanor.  The Supreme Court rejected this argument and determined that the legislature had intended for persons in Mr. Taylor’s situation to be convicted of the lesser offense.  The Court stated that implicit in the decrease in classification of an offense is a decease in the corresponding penalty.  Essentially, the two necessarily go together.

The court noted that the question is not whether they legislature had decreased the level of offense, as it clearly did, but rather whether persons in Taylor’s circumstances could benefit from the reduction.  And because the R.C. 1.58(B) states that defendant’s not yet sentenced benefit from the amendments, he had to be classified as a misdemeanant, not a felon.  The Court went on to note that the legislature had “conditioned application of the reduced penalty – which arises by virtue of the reduced classification – on whether or not the offenders had been previously sentenced.”  Here, Taylor had not been sentenced and therefore, the reduced penalties, which cannot be separated from the reduced classification of offense, applied to him.

This is probably the right call.  It doesn’t make any logical sense to claim that a defendant can be convicted of a felony but only sentenced for a misdemeanor. The to go hand-in-hand. The potential punishments are determined by the level of offense under Ohio’s sentencing laws.  And because R.C. 1.58(B) clearly stated that a defendant should get the lesser punishment if the enactment of the statute came prior to the sentencing, Taylor wins.  If the legislature wanted the amendments to only apply to those that committed the offense on or after the effective date of H.B. 86, it could have said so.


Self-Defense in Ohio Vs. Florida – what is stand your ground anyway?

Following the George Zimmerman acquittal, there has been a lot of discussion around our nation regarding the use of self-defense and, in particular, whether Florida’s “Stand your ground” law is appropriate or terrible social policy.  Is it a bad law? Would Mr. Zimmerman have been convicted absent the law? The point of this post it to try and educate the public regarding the law of self-defense, the duty to retreat (or not retreat) and how Ohio law may differ from Florida.

Let’s start with the basics.  Self-defense has been a viable affirmative defense to many crimes (assault, felonious assault, murder, etc.) for many, many years.  Since the inception of our great country, the law has recognized that no person is obligated to sit there while an aggressor beats on them; no person must remain idle when he or she has an objectively reasonable belief that they are about to suffer imminent serious harm or death.  We have always had the right to meet force with force.

Currently, the law in Ohio requires a defendant asserting self-defense to prove three things by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not):

(1)   That the defendant “was not at fault in creating the situation giving rise to the “affray.” Basically, you can’t start the fight and then claim self-defense when the other guy ends up dead.   A defendant must not have been responsible for causing the altercation in order to validly assert self-defense.

(2)   That the defendant “had a bona fide belief that he was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and the only means to escape such danger was in the use of such force.” The defendant must have reasonably believed, under the circumstances as he knew them, that he was about to suffer serious physical harm or death, and the use of force was necessary to thwart that imminent harm.

(3)   That the defendant “did not violate any duty to retreat or avoid the danger.”  Astute readers will notice that this third prong is somewhat duplicative to the second prong, because if the only means to escape the danger was the use of force, then obviously the defendant could not otherwise avoid the danger. But let’s not get too bogged down in that minutia. Appellate courts craft “tests” all the time that seem nonsensical.

This test is the classic common law definition of self-defense, and was rearticulated by the Ohio Supreme Court fairly recently in State v. Barnes (2002), 94 Ohio St.3d 21. So, where does Florida’s “stand your ground law” come into all this?  Stand your ground alters the second and third prongs of the test – whether the defendant violated a duty to retreat or to otherwise avoid the danger in deciding inflict harm on the victim rather than run.

In Florida, even if you are capable of retreating safely and avoiding the attack, you may still use whatever force is reasonably necessary in order to thwart the potential harm.  Run to your car? You may, but need not do so.  You are permitted to meet the force with force no matter the available alternatives.

This is fundamentally different than Ohio’s law on self-defense.  If you are out on the street and accosted by someone, but have the means to run away, you must do so.  Only when the use of force is your only alternative will self-defense be found legitimate by a jury.

There is one exception, however, to Ohio’s duty to retreat: the Castle Doctrine, as codified in R.C. 2901.05 and R.C. 2901.09.  Taken together, these sections state that a person has no duty to retreat from their residence or vehicle when confronted with the danger of physical harm. Moreover, there is a rebuttable presumption that the defendant acted in self-defense whenever he inflicted harm on the victim in his residence or car and the victim was unlawfully entering or within the residence or vehicle.  In other words, the state bears the burden of proving that the defendant did not act in self-defense if the circumstances fall within the Castle Doctrine.

In short, the Ohio legislature has determined that persons within their residence may use force, even deadly force, whenever they reasonably believe they are about to suffer serious physical harm or death, regardless of whether they could have run out the back door.   There is no duty to retreat from your “castle” (or carriage, I suppose).  Florida law essentially takes Ohio’s Castle Doctrine to the streets. No one should ever have to retreat, period.

So, with all of this in mind, did Florida’s law on self-defense have any impact on the Zimmerman trial? Absolutely not.  Zimmerman simply asserted the classic version of self-defense, and the jury evidently bought it.  As best I can tell, his argument was basically: (1) he was not the aggressor on that rainy evening in central Florida. Trayvon Martin threw the first punch. (2) He reasonably believed that he was about to suffer serious physical harm or death while his head was repeatedly hitting the pavement, and (3) he had no available option but to shoot young Mr. Martin to avoid serious injuries or possibly death.  Had the Florida legislature never enacted “stand your ground,” the arguments for and against Zimmerman’s use of force would have been the same.

Zimmerman never contended that he had the ability to retreat once the attack started, but wasn’t required to do so under “stand your ground.”  The defense never requested any instruction on “stand your ground” as it was irrelevant to the factual issues the jury was required to sort out.  Zimmerman’s argument was that he simply reacted reasonably under the circumstances, which he did not create, and did what he had to in order to save his life.  Had the trial taken place in Ohio, the ultimate issues would have been very similar.