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On Reconsideration, 8th District Reverses its Decision in State v. Young.

I previously covered the 8th District Court of Appeals’ decision in State v. Young, in which it ruled that the indefinite sentence imposed by the Regan Tokes Act applied in determining the maximum period of civil commitment for a defendant found not guilty by reason of insanity. On reconsideration, the 8th District vacated this opinion, and affirmed the trial court’s original decision that Regan Tokes did not apply in this context.

            In its reconsidered opinion, the court noted that the State had not objected to the trial court’s decision, and therefore waived all but plain error. The court held that the civil standard for plain error applied to commitment following a not guilty by reason of insanity verdict. Under the civil standard, plain error should be found only under exceptional circumstances.

            The State also argued that Young’s sentence was void and could therefore be challenged at any time. The court responded that civil commitment is not a criminal sentence, and the voidness doctrine did not apply.   

            The Court found no plain error. Reversing its prior decision, it held that an indefinite sentence under Regan Tokes could only be applied to a Defendant based on the Department of Corrections’ determination that the defendant’s behavior in prison justified application of the sentence. Because Young would not be serving any time in prison, there would be no possible basis for imposing the indefinite sentence. Therefore, the trial court did not plainly err in finding that Regan Tokes did not apply, and the maximum period of commitment was eleven years, not sixteen and a half years.

            Notably, this decision is based on the stringent plain error standard. It therefore leaves open the possibility that a future court, addressing this issue when properly preserved for appeal, could reach a different decision. For example, a future reviewing court might disagree with this panel’s reasoning that there is no basis for imposing an indefinite sentence where the Defendant is not sent to prison. The relevant statute, R.C. § 2945.401 states that the maximum period of commitment is “the maximum prison term or term of imprisonment that the defendant or person could have received if the defendant or person had been convicted of the most serious offense with which the defendant or person is charged.” It is at least arguable that this sentence does include the indefinite sentence, because if the person had been convicted, they would have gone to prison, and could, based on their behavior, have received part or all of the indefinite sentence. Therefore, the argument goes, the indefinite sentence is part of the term of imprisonment that person “could have received” if they had been convicted. This issue could also become moot if the Supreme Court eventually decides that Regan Tokes itself is unconstitutional.