State v. Troisi

1. Case name:
State v. Troisi

2. Case cite:
179 Ohio App. 3d 326 (Ohio Ct. App., Lake County 2008); 2008 LEXIS 5097

3. Facts:
On February 3, 2007, Juanita M. Troisi, Appellant, held what is known in the locale as a “purse party,” at which she offered for sale various purses, wallets, and jewelry. One of the invitees to the event thought same suspect, and as such, informed the local police department of the possible criminal conduct. After an investigation of the matter, the police department, with the assistance of a purportedly renowned intellectual property crimes investigator, raided the location of the event, seized approximately 1,700 allegedly counterfeit items, and placed Appellant under arrest.

4. Procedural posture:
Following a jury trial, the Lake County Court of Ohio convicted Appellant of one count of trademark counterfeiting, a felony of the third degree in the State of Ohio, and one count of possession of criminal tools, a felony of the fifth degree. Appellant was sentenced to three years in prison. She appeals such judgment on conviction.

5. Holding:
The Appellate Court held that the evidence was insufficient to support Appellant’s convictions. Namely, because the Court concluded that there was no evidence from which the jury could have concluded that the allegedly counterfeit items had a counterfeit mark that was “identical with or substantially indistinguishable from” a registered trademark, the jury was merely entitled to render a verdict based upon the testimony of the State’s expert witness, the purported expert in intellectual property crimes. The Court found such testimony misleading and legally insufficient to prove the ultimate issue of which he testified to. Finally, because there was insufficient evidence to support the trademark counterfeiting conviction, there was also insufficient evidence to support the possession of criminal tools conviction, as the evidence could not support a finding that Appellant transported the allegedly counterfeit goods with the requisite intent to engage in trademark counterfeiting. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court was reversed and vacated.

6. Important dicta:
Appellant’s first assignment of error, that the trial court erred in allowing the testimony of the State’s purported intellectual property expert because it invaded the province of the jury and denied Appellant due process of the law, was unnecessary to the outcome of the case, but the Court found it prudent to discuss. The State’s expert witness testified as to his understanding of the definition of trademark counterfeiting, which the Court found overbroad and inexact. The Court cautioned that the subject matter statutory language is very specific, and without evidence that the allegedly counterfeit items had a counterfeit mark as defined in the law, there can be no statutory trademark counterfeiting violation.

7. Likely future importance or unanswered questions:
Appellant’s fifth assignment of error asserts that the subject matter state statute is void for vagueness. The Court did not reach the merits of this claim as it deemed same moot, but a question remains as to the validity of such statute in future cases.

8. Critical analysis:
The Court based its holding(s) on the State’s failure to prove the specific, prescribed elements of the trademark counterfeiting statute. The State’s reliance on the testimony of an intellectual property crimes investigator was insufficient to uphold a conviction, as his definition of trademark counterfeiting was far from legally adequate. Specifically, the State’s expert testified that trademark counterfeiting amounted to “copying the registered trademark of a property owner,” which is extremely overbroad and inadequate as compared to the statutory definition, which requires evidence that the mark in question is: “identical with or substantially indistinguishable from a mark that is registered on the principal register in the United States patent and trademark office.. .”

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