Ohio Supreme Court denies man's motion

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The Supreme Court of Ohio recently ruled a Guernsey County trial court's order denying Vernon Yontz’s motion to modify the terms of his intervention-in-lieu-of-conviction (ILC) for the illegal possession of oxycodone pills was not a final appealable order.

Because the order was not final, neither the Fifth District Court of Appeals nor the Supreme Court had jurisdiction to consider the trial court’s denial of his modification request. A court majority vacated the Fifth District’s decision denying Yontz’s request and let the trial court’s decision stand.

Yontz challenged the term of ILC that required him to cease the use of Suboxone to treat opioid-abuse disorder. Yontz had argued to the Supreme Court that he should not have to violate his ILC in order to take Suboxone prescribed to him for treatment.

Writing for the court, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor acknowledged that the concern that ongoing treatment with Suboxone might provide Yontz “the best possible chance of successful rehabilitation” does not procedurally allow him to appeal the order if the order does not meet the statutory definition of a final appealable order.

Justices Sharon L. Kennedy, Patrick F. Fischer, R. Patrick DeWine, Michael P. Donnelly, and Melody Stewart joined the chief justice’s opinion. Justice Jennifer Brunner concurred in judgment only.

Court Grants ILC With ConditionsIn 2017, Yontz faced felony charges for aggravated possession of drugs for possessing oxycodone. In June 2019, he requested that the Guernsey County Common Pleas Court grant him ILC under R.C. 2951.041. As part of his request, Yontz agreed to comply with all terms and conditions imposed by the court. Yontz’s request acknowledged that an intervention plan may be established for him and that he would be required to abstain from using illegal drugs and alcohol. The trial court granted Yontz’s ILC request and placed him on “probation-like supervision” for at least one year and up to three years. The order required Yontz to obey any terms or conditions of his supervision imposed by the Adult Probation Department.

On the same day, Yontz signed the probation department’s written policy on prescription medications, which stated that Suboxone was not an approved medication and directed him to meet with his physician to obtain a safe titration plan to be weaned off the medication within 60 to 90 days. Yontz had a prescription for Suboxone at that time.

Modification of ILC Conditions SoughtAbout six months later, Yontz asked the trial court to modify his ILC supervision so that he could demonstrate that his access to Suboxone was medically necessary. Yontz stated he had used opiates for more than 20 years and was diagnosed with a severe opioid-use disorder. He maintained that blocking his use of the medication violated the federal Americans With Disabilities Act, and the equal protection clauses of the U.S. and Ohio constitutions.

The Guernsey County Prosecutor’s Office objected to the modification, and the trial court denied it. Yontz appealed to the Fifth District. The prosecutor’s office argued that Yontz’s appeal was moot because he had successfully navigated the ILC process, including having already tapered off the Suboxone.

The appellate court concluded his appeal was moot because there was no evidence that he used the medication after the time he was required to stop and there was nothing in the record indicating he was not complying with the conditions of ILC. The Fifth District found no reason to modify his ILC.

Yontz appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that he should not have to violate his ILC by taking Suboxone in order to challenge the terms of the ILC. The Court agreed to hear the case.

The court found, under the circumstances, that Yontz’s request to modify his treatment did not meet the law’s definition of a final appealable order because he requested the modification three months after he stopped using the medication.

Because Yontz could not demonstrate the trial court’s decision was a final appealable order, he could not appeal it, the court concluded.

This article originally appeared on The Daily Jeffersonian: Ohio Supreme Court denies man's motion