Login | May 24, 2022

11th District reverses Portage County grand theft conviction

Legal News Reporter

Published: May 11, 2022

A Portage County trial court erred by denying a defendant’s motion for acquittal in a grand theft case because the state presented insufficient evidence to convict him, the 11th District Court of Appeals recently ruled.
Alex Piskac was convicted on a single count of grand theft after a February 2021 jury trial. He was sentenced to 200 days in jail followed by five years of probation.
Portage County Sheriff’s Deputy Jonathan Lavrich testified that shortly before 9 a.m. on Sept. 1, 2020, he was dispatched to the Palmyra Township home of Paulette Piskac – the mother of the defendant - for a report of the theft of a 2004 Jeep Liberty. The Jeep was owned by Edward Powers, who lived with Alex and Paulette Piskac at the time.
Paulette’s son had the vehicle and was returning it to an Econo Lodge in Brimfield Township where his brother, Michael, was staying. Lavrich left for the motel and arrived at about a quarter to noon. He observed the Jeep arrive after a few minutes.
Lavrich told Alex Piskac the vehicle had been reported stolen. Piskac denied stealing the Jeep and told Lavrich he was given permission to borrow the vehicle but was late in returning it.
Paulette Piskac testified that, on the evening of Aug. 31, she went to bed around 10 p.m. and woke up at 7 a.m. to find her son not at home and Powers’ Jeep missing. Paulette said she called her son, but he didn’t answer, and that Alex had previously taken her vehicle without permission to go fishing. After she was unable to find him at local fishing spots, she contacted the police and Powers.
During his testimony, Powers said he left his keys on the key rack the evening of Aug. 31 before going to bed and had not given anyone permission to use his vehicle.
In his opinion, 11th District Judge Matt Lynch noted that the only element of grand theft in dispute was whether Alex Piskac intended to permanently deprive Powers of the vehicle.
The state alleged there was sufficient circumstantial evidence that Alex Piskac meant to deprive Powers of the vehicle, since “the vehicle was taken in secret, to an unknown location, and for an unspecified period of time.”
However, the appellate panel disagreed, finding that evidence did not reflect the defendant’s intentions.
“Although Piskac took the vehicle in secret, he did nothing to conceal the fact that he took the vehicle,” Judge Lynch wrote. “His mother readily deduced from the absence of Piskac and the vehicle from the home that Piskac had taken the vehicle. While Piskac’s destination may have been unknown, the vehicle was recovered from a pre-arranged location within 12 hours of its disappearance.”
The appellate court added there is nothing in the past relationship between the two men to indicate the defendant intended to deprive Powers of using the vehicle. In addition, the panel said the state’s allegation that without the sheriff’s intervention, the Jeep might still be in “some undisclosed location today” is also not supported by evidence.
“According to Deputy Lavrich’s testimony, by the time he spoke with Michael by phone from Paulette’s home, the return of the vehicle had already been arranged,” Judge Lynch said. “While Paulette did send Piskac a text message threatening to call the police if he did not get in touch with her, there is nothing in the record indicating that this threat had any influence upon Piskac’s conduct.
“The state points to nothing in the record from which it could be reasonably inferred that it was Piskac’s purpose to withhold the vehicle permanently or for a period of time sufficient to appropriate a substantial portion of its value or use.”
The case was remanded with instructions for the trial court to vacate the grand theft conviction in violation of R.C. 2913.02 and enter a judgment of conviction on the lesser-included offense of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle in violation of R.C. 2913.03, and to resentence Alex Piskac accordingly.
Appellate judges Cynthia Westcott Rice and John J. Eklund concurred. The case is cited State v. Piskac, 2022-Ohio-1209.