COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio man acted so casually when he stole a $500 leaf blower from a residence that it wasn’t a burglary, the state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.
The justices found that because Donald Bertram did not use “secret conduct, force, stealth, or deception” to commit the crime, he should not be convicted of burglary.
Instead, they said he can be convicted of the lesser offense of misdemeanor trespassing, which could bring him less than a year in jail.
According to court documents, in 2020 a Portsmouth homeowner saw Bertram park on the road near the driveway, then started walking up the driveway to the home’s open garage.
The homeowner said Bertram was brazen, acting “very cavalier” and was “smiling with no sense of urgency” as he walked into the garage, took the leaf blower and walked back to his car.
Bertram ignored the homeowner’s demand to put down the blower and instead put it on the passenger seat of his car and attempted to drive off. When the car didn’t immediately start, the homeowner took several close-up photos of Bertram before he eventually drove away.
Bertram was soon arrested and was convicted by a jury of burglary.
He appealed the jury’s verdict to the Fourth District Court of Appeals, which agreed with the verdict, then Bertram appealed the case to the state Supreme Court.
In the decision written by Ohio Justice Michael Donnelly, the Supreme Court said that the lower courts determined Bertram engaged in stealth and deception because he calmly and silently walked by the homeowner, giving no indication that he intended to steal anything.
Donnelly though, wrote that the evidence “utterly failed to establish” that Bertram engaged in any “secret, sly, or clandestine conduct,” which must be proven to convict someone of burglary.
With Wednesday’s decision, the court also vacated a prison sentence that had been given to Bertram. The justices also vacated a 491-day sentence Bertram received for violating his probation in an unrelated case.
They noted a prison term for violating probation can only be imposed for committing a felony, and in this case that matter was vacated.