Defendant Michael Knab is a young man who had a schizophrenic hallucination exacerbated by methamphetamine use. He believed someone was shooting up his house. He called 911, and multiple officers in his small town of Centerville, OH responded. Upon finding that there was no shooter, the police arrested him, and he was prosecuted and convicted of Making a False Report, a first degree misdemeanor under R.C. § 2917.32(A)(3), and Improper Use of a 911 System, a fourth degree misdemeanor under R.C. § 128.32(E).
After sentencing, the trial court held a restitution hearing. In addition to the criminal fines, fees, and jail time imposed, the court ordered Mr. Knab to pay $1,375.56 in restitution to the City, in order to recoup the cost of police time based on their hourly wages. The restitution order relied on Ohio’s Marsy’s Law, which allows assessment of restitution to “victims” of a crime, based on the theory that the municipality was a “victim” of Mr. Knab’s conduct.
This expansion of Marsy’s Law improperly burdens criminal defendants, and creates a dangerous disincentive to call 911 by making public services pay-to-play. Case law prior to Marsy’s Law did not allow a government entity to obtain restitution when it was not the actual victim of a crime, and Marsy’s Law did not change that. Calling 911 is also protected under the First Amendment right to petition the government, and people exercising that right should not be assessed monetary penalties for doing so.
The Second District Court of Appeals reversed the restitution order and the state appealed to the Supreme Court of Ohio. The Supreme Court accepted jurisdiction over a single issue: whether a municipality qualifies as a “victim” under Marsy’s Law, making it entitled to “full and timely restitution” when it is “directly and proximately harmed” by a crime. On December 23 we filed our amicus brief in support of Mr. Knab. On the same day, Southeastern Ohio Legal Services also filed an amicus brief, and Mr. Knab’s attorneys filed his merit brief. The state filed its reply on January 13, 2020. Oral argument was held on June 2, 2020. On November 11, the Ohio Supreme Court decided in our favor, holding that a municipality is not a victim within the meaning of Marsy’s Law and thus has no right to restitution under the law.