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Ohio Supreme Court reverses its own ruling, upholding 65-year prison sentence for thief

The bench of the Ohio Supreme Court
Daniel Konik

The 65-year sentence of a former nursing home aide who admitted stealing thousands of dollars from residents will stand, though the Ohio Supreme Court made a different decision on the case late last year.

The court split 4-3 in upholding the sentence for 62-year old Susan Gwynne. She had been charged with 86 felony counts for stealing from 46 residents at nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Delaware and Franklin Counties. She pleaded guilty to 46 felony and misdemeanor charges in 2016.

The total prison time added up to 65 years, and Gwynne challenged that sentence. Last December the Ohio Supreme Court voted 4-3 that trial courts must consider the overall prison time when issuing consecutive sentences. Justices Sharon Kennedy, Pat DeWine and Pat Fischer dissented.

But a few weeks later, the court's makeup was different. Republican Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor, who was part of the majority in the decision on that case, had left the court because of age limits. Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters was appointed to the court by Gov. Mike DeWine to take the seat of Kennedy, who was elected Chief Justice in November. In January, the Delaware County prosecutor asked the court to reconsider the case, and the four Republicans - Kennedy, Deters, DeWine and Fischer - agreed.

Though the justices had almost the same views as in the ruling in December, this time the Republican dissenters were in the majority.

In the majority opinion, Kennedy wrote that previous ruling was wrong, that trial courts don’t have to consider the total time in consecutive sentences.

"The record in this case does not clearly and convincingly fail to support the trial court’s findings; in other words, it does not overwhelmingly support a contrary result concerning the imposition of consecutive sentences," Kennedy wrote, citing the eight years in which Gwynne was "stealing countless items of both financial and personal value from some of the most vulnerable members of society—the elderly who were residing in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. Many of the elderly victims also suffered from medical or cognitive issues."

The Democrats dissented.

Justice Melody Stewart noted that the court's composition changed just prior to the vote to reconsider the case and added, "This means that although four justices of this court believe that this case is deserving of the extraordinary measure of reconsideration, they leave the law on consecutive sentences unclear, just as it had been for over 25 years until this court issued its December 23, 2022 decision clarifying the law."

Justice Jennifer Brunner joined Stewart's dissent, but also wrote that while Gwynne's crimes caused emotional and financial harm to her elderly victims, "what Gwynne did pales in comparison to the nature of the crimes that generally result in a 65-year prison term; her aggregate sentence is vastly longer than those that are typically imposed for multiple nonviolent theft and even burglary offenses."

Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at
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