Consecutive sentences: Judicial findings, but not reasons, required to impose

On July 24, 2014 the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled that in order to impose consecutive sentences a trial court must make findings pursuant to O.R.C. 2929.14(C) at the sentencing hearing and incorporate the findings into a sentencing entry, but that it is not required to provide reasons in support of its findings (State v. Bonnell, Slip Opinion No. 2014-Ohio-3177).  This decision was the latest development in a complicated legislative and judicial  history involving this issue.

In 1996 the Ohio legislature passed a law that created a statutory presumption for concurrent sentences and required trial courts to make specific findings with reasons to support those findings in order to impose consecutive sentences. In State v. Foster, 109 Ohio St.3d 1 (2006), as a result of decisions made by the U.S. Supreme Court in other cases, the Ohio Supreme Court found those portions of the statute violated the 6th Amendment and severed them from the revised code. The U.S. Supreme Court then found that state statutes requiring judicial fact-finding before imposing consecutive sentences did not violate the 6th Amendment in Oregon v. Ice, 555 U.S. 160 (2009). Subsequently, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision inIce did not automatically reinstate the severed provisions of the revised code, and that the Ohio legislature would have to pass a new law to reenact them (State v. Hodge, 128 Ohio St.3d 1 (2010)).

As a response to the Court’s decision in Hodge, the Ohio legislature passed H.B. 86 in September, 2011, which amended O.R.C. 2929.14and O.R.C. 2929.41 to make concurrent sentences the presumption unless the trial court makes factual findings pursuant to O.R.C. 2929.14(C)(4). In the majority decision in Bonnell, the Court noted that in passing the new law the Ohio legislature did not require trial courts to provide reasons for their findings of fact when imposing consecutive sentences. As such, the Court found that pursuant to these laws, while judicial findings are required before imposing consecutive sentences, reasons are not. The majority decision was written by Justice O'Donnell and joined by Justices O’Connor, Pfeifer, Lanzinger, and O’Neill. Justices French and Kennedy concurred in part and dissented in part. In the concurrence/dissent, Justice French stated that trial courts should be permitted to make the findings in a sentencing hearing, a sentencing entry or a combination of the two, but should not be required to make the findings in both.

For more information about this case see the Ohio Supreme Court docket page for 2013-0167 and this link from Court News Ohio.