Vernon Yontz requested a change in the terms of the intervention in lieu of a conviction
The Ohio Supreme Court recently ruled that a Guernsey County court order denying Vernon Yontz’s motion to amend the terms of his indictment (ILC) for illegal possession of oxycodone pills was not a final order.
Because the order was not final, neither the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals nor the Supreme Court had jurisdiction to consider the trial court’s rejection of his amendment. A majority of the court reversed the fifth circuit’s decision denying Yontz’s application and allowed the trial court’s decision to stand.
Yontz challenged the ILC’s tenure, which required him to stop using Suboxone to treat opioid abuse disorders. Yontz had argued in the Supreme Court that he shouldn’t be violating his ILC to take the Suboxone he was prescribed for treatment.
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor conceded for the court that concern that continued treatment with Suboxone might offer Yontz “the best possible chance of successful rehabilitation” procedurally does not allow him to appeal the order if the order does not the legal definition corresponds to a legally binding decision.
Justices Sharon L. Kennedy, Patrick F. Fischer, R. Patrick DeWine, Michael P. Donnelly and Melody Stewart concurred with the Chief Justice’s opinion. Judge Jennifer Brunner only agreed in the verdict.
Court grants ILC with conditionsIn 2017, Yontz was charged with possession of drugs for possession of oxycodone on felony counts. In June 2019 he applied for the Guernsey County Common Pleas Court to grant him ILC under RC 2951.041. As part of his application, Yontz agreed to comply with any conditions imposed by the court. Yontz’s application confirmed that an intervention plan could be prepared for him and that he would be required to refrain from using illegal drugs and alcohol. The trial court granted Yontz’s ILC motion and placed him under “probationary supervision” for a minimum of one year and up to three years. The order required Yontz to comply with all terms of his supervision imposed by the Adult Parole Department.
That same day, Yontz signed the Parole Department’s written prescription drug policy, stating that Suboxone was not an approved drug, and instructed him to meet with his doctor to get a safe titration schedule to start the drug within 60 to 90 days to withdraw. Yontz had a prescription for Suboxone at the time.
ILC Terms Change RequestedAbout six months later, Yontz petitioned the trial court to change his ILC oversight so he could show his access to Suboxone was medically necessary. Yontz stated that he had used opiates for more than 20 years and was diagnosed with a severe opioid use disorder. He claimed that blocking his use of the drug violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and the equality protection clauses of the US and Ohio constitutions.
The Guernsey County Attorney’s Office objected to the amendment, and the trial court rejected it. Yontz appealed to the Fifth Circuit. Prosecutors argued that Yontz’s appeal was moot because he had successfully navigated the ILC process, including the fact that he had already discontinued the Suboxone.
The Court of Appeals concluded that his appeal was unfounded as there was no evidence he had taken the drug after the time he was prescribed and nothing in the records indicated that he was not complying with ILC’s terms. The Fifth Circuit found no reason to change its ILC.
Yontz appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that he did not have to violate his ILC by taking Suboxone to challenge the terms of the ILC. The court agreed to hear the case.
The court found in the circumstances that Yontz’s request to change his treatment did not meet the legal definition of a final voidable order because he requested the change three months after he stopped taking the drug.
Because Yontz could not prove that the trial court’s decision was a final order, he could not appeal, the court concluded.