May 14, 2014
A Clerical Error

by Justice Paul E. Pfeifer

In 2002, Robert A. Snead pled guilty in Clermont County to a number of felonies. The list of his crimes included kidnapping with a sexual-motivation specification, felonious assault on a police officer, and aggravated burglary.

On February 27, 2002, the common pleas court issued a judgment entry in his case – State v. Snead – reflecting Snead’s guilty plea and ordering a presentence investigation.

On March 11, 2002, the court entered a judgment entry of sentence. That entry set out the charges upon which Snead was found guilty, and the 21-year sentence of imprisonment imposed. The common pleas court judge signed the entry, and it was file-stamped by the clerk of courts.

Snead began serving his time, but that wasn’t the end of the issue. Eleven years later, on April 10, 2013, Snead filed a petition with the Twelfth District Court of Appeals. Snead argued that the March 11, 2002 judgment entry was defective – and hence was not a final, appealable order.

What is a final, appealable order? It’s an order from a court that is complete in all aspects, and therefore meets all the requirements that would allow a person to file an appeal of that order.

Snead maintained that the March 11, 2002 judgment entry, which is an “order,” was defective because it did not contain all the elements required under Criminal Rule 32(C). The Criminal Rules provide courts with guidelines for all criminal proceedings.

Specifically, the March 11, 2002 entry from the Clermont County Common Please Court did not indicate the manner of Snead’s conviction. Snead argued that, in his case, to find all the required elements of a final, appealable order, a person would have to review two documents – the March 11, 2002 judgment entry and the earlier February 27, 2002 judgment entry. This mistake, he argued, was in violation of a 2008 decision by our court – the Supreme Court of Ohio – in a case called State v. Baker.

About a week after Snead filed his petition, the trial court issued what’s called a “nunc pro tunc” judgment entry of sentence. “Nunc pro tunc” is a Latin phrase meaning “now for then.” In the legal sense, the phrase is applied to acts that are allowed to be done after the time when they should have done, with a retroactive effect – that is, with the same effect as if it had been done in a regular manner.

As it’s used in this case, a nunc pro tunc entry is “an entry made now of something actually previously done.” So, the nunc pro tunc entry in question stated the fact of conviction, listed the offenses of which Snead was convicted, repeated the sentence, and this time indicated the manner of conviction – Snead’s guilty plea.

After that, Snead was granted leave to file an amended petition. He argued in the court of appeals that the nunc pro tunc entry did not cure the defective March 11, 2002 judgment entry for two principal reasons. First, Snead asserted that a court cannot use a nunc pro tunc entry to correct a judgment that is void under Criminal Rule 32(C) and State v. Baker.

And second, Snead contended that neither the March 11, 2002 judgment entry nor the nunc pro tunc entry disposed of the three felony charges that had been brought against him.

On June 17, 2013, the Twelfth District Court of Appeals dismissed Snead’s petition on the grounds that the nunc pro tunc entry rendered Snead’s claim moot and that the relief that he sought was unavailable because Snead had an adequate remedy by way of appeal to dispute the propriety of the nunc pro tunc entry.

After that, Snead’s case came before us for a final review. We concluded that Snead’s challenge to the validity of the March 11, 2002 judgment entry had no merit.

Why did we reach that conclusion? A final, appealable order in a criminal case under Criminal Rule 32(C) must contain four elements: (1) the fact of the conviction, (2) the sentence, (3) the judge’s signature, and (4) a time stamp from the clerk of courts. The March 11, 2002 judgment entry contains all four of those required elements.

In a 2011 case named State v. Lester, our court determined that the manner of conviction is a requirement of Criminal Rule 32(C), but that its absence from the entry does not affect the finality of the order. Moreover, the Lester decision held that the omission of the manner of conviction is a clerical error, which the trial court may correct through a nunc pro tunc entry.

Our court has consistently regarded Criminal Rule 32(C) errors as clerical mistakes subject to nunc pro tunc correction. Snead argued that it was customary in Clermont County to omit “manner of conviction” information, and therefore that the omission must be regarded as intentional and not clerical. But that argument had no legal basis.

Snead also argued that the March 11, 2002 judgment entry was not a final, appealable order because it did not reflect the disposition of the three felony charges brought against him when two different case numbers were merged into one. He cited a number of decisions in which a criminal defendant was tried on multiple charges, the trial court entered the final judgment as to one but not all of the counts, and the court of appeals dismissed the appeal for lack of a final, appealable order.

But those cases are different from Snead’s. The record clearly indicates that the March 11, 2002 entry disposed of all charges remaining in Snead’s case, which is all that was required to create a final, appealable order. Nothing in Criminal Rule 32(C) or in our court’s previous decisions requires a trial court to include as part of its sentencing entry the disposition of charges that were previously dismissed by the prosecution.

The court of appeals dismissed Snead’s petition because the nunc pro tunc entry rendered his claim moot. By a seven-to-zero vote, we affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The case referred to is State ex rel. Snead v. Ferenc, 138 Ohio St.3d 136, 2014-Ohio-43. Case No. 2013-1084. Decided January 14, 2014. Opinion Per Curiam.