Login | August 05, 2021

11th District reverses Portage County NGRI jurisdiction

Legal News Reporter

Published: September 11, 2019

A Portage County trial court erred by concluding it possessed continuing jurisdiction to keep a man committed to a mental health institution after he was found not guilty by reason of insanity in a felonious assault case.

That’s according to the 11th District Court of Appeals, which recently reversed and remanded the case of Danny J. Lantz, who was found NGRI in 2009 on two counts of felonious assault.

Lantz was originally found competent to stand trial. But after a second psychological evaluation, the court ultimately found he should be committed for the maximum sentence allowable or until restored to sanity to Heartland Behavioral Healthcare Center.

Over the years, status and continued commitment hearings were held. At the last mandatory two-year review hearing in September 2016, the trial court found Lantz was “mentally ill, subject to hospitalization and NBH (was) the least restrictive and appropriate commitment facility.”

In December 2017, defense counsel filed a motion to change the court’s original order to commit Lantz for “the maximum prison term for the most serious offense, a term of eight years.”

Counsel argued the original statement of commitment improperly lengthened the possible time frame over which the court could exercise jurisdiction for up to 16 years, in violation of R.C. 2945.401(J)(1)(b).

At a 2018 hearing, the state argued the court could exercise jurisdiction for up to 16 years because Lantz was charged with two counts on two separate victims, and both counts were equally serious.

The state called Dr. Ellen Hott, the attending psychiatrist at NBH, to testify. Hott said Lantz was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type, and had a history of substance use. Hott told the judge if Lantz discontinued his medication, there was a strong possibility he would become violent.

After the hearing, the trial court determined it had continuing jurisdiction for up to 16 years.

On appeal, Lantz noted that R.C. 2945.401 provides under subsection (b) that the final termination of a commitment occurs upon the earlier of the “expiration of the maximum prison term … 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 or … was found not guilty by reason of insanity.”

In her opinion, 11th District Judge Cynthia Westcott Rice stated that although both felonious assault counts were second-degree felonies and are each equally serious, the “statutory language contemplates the most serious singular offense, not multiple offenses.”

Therefore, the trial court erred in concluding Lantz would be under its jurisdiction for maximum terms available for both offenses.

“To read the statute otherwise would judicially modify the phrase `the most serious offense’ to the ‘most serious offenses,’ or arbitrarily limit ‘the most serious offense’ clause to those found incompetent to stand trial,” Rice added.

Appellate judges Thomas R. Wright and Timothy P. Cannon concurred.

The case is cited State v. Lantz, 2019-Ohio-3439.