Welcome to The Briefcase

Commentary and analysis of Ohio criminal law and whatever else comes to mind, served with a dash of snark.  Continue Reading »


Multiple Choice

Every now and then you run across a case that would serve as a good bar exam question, and the 8th District's decision last week in State v. Dunbar fits the bill.  The facts weren't in dispute:  Dunbar had used his girlfriend as a punching (and kicking) bag, in front of the kids no less, then wouldn't let her leave the house so that other people couldn't see what he'd done.  He wound up pleading guilty to domestic violence in municipal court, did six months there, and then was indicted for domestic violence and three counts of abduction by the county.  He was offered a plea to one count of abduction, with an agreed sentence of probation; he nixed the deal the first time, then accepted it three weeks after that.  When he showed up for sentencing a month later, the court gave him two years in prison.

Where do we start?  First, while the plea to the misdemeanor domestic violence would obviously bar a prosecution on its felony counterpart, does it also prohibit the abduction charge?  There is case law -- primarily the Ohio Supreme Court's decision in State v. Carpenter -- to the effect that once a person enters a plea, it bars prosecution of related charges that the state knew about and could have brought, on the due process grounds that the defendant should be able to "reasonably anticipate" that his plea brought an end to his troubles.  The 8th District cited the later Supreme Court decision in State v. Zuma, for the proposition that the defendant's reliance on that anticipation isn't warranted when the courts are different (municipal v. state).

And, of course, the abduction charge isn't barred by the plea to domestic violence on double jeopardy grounds, either, since the two offenses have different elements.  The defendant had also argued that further prosecution was barred by "collateral estoppel," the doctrine that once a case is tried, the facts necessary for its determination can't be relitigated.  (The leading Supreme Court case on that is here.)  That's usually only applicable where there's a an acquittal, though.  Even if Dunbar had been acquitted of the domestic violence charge in muni court, whether that would have precluded a conviction for abduction was problematic; the "issue preclusion" necessary for collateral estoppel runs into the same problem of different elements as the double jeopardy contention.  The fact that he pled guilty to the lesser charge, though, foreclosed the argument of collateral estoppel.

But we're still not done:  the question then becomes whether the judge could send him to prison when the plea agreement was for probation.  The law is that a judge doesn't have to accept an agreed prison sentence, but if she doesn't, she has to make it clear that she's not going to do that, and give the defendant a chance to withdraw the plea.  The court actually spent more time than it needed to on this issue:  it recited the transcript fully, and there's nothing to indicate that the trial judge ever gave a hint of not going along with the recommended sentence, so long as defendant didn't have any contact with the victim.  The court concluded that the trial court abused its discretion in sentencing him to two years in prison without giving him a chance to vacate the plea.

Wait!  There's more!  If you're one of the first 100 people to read this opinion, we'll throw in a discussion of speedy trial, too!  And, in this case, it's pretty helpful:  the question was whether time was tolled after the defendant failed to show up for his arraignment.  The reason he failed to show up, it turns out, was because he was in the Workhouse serving the six-month sentence on the misdemeanor domestic violence conviction.  The court held that the state should have known this, and served him at the Workhouse, instead of sending the subpoena to the address where the victim lived, especially since there was a no-contact order with the victim. 

This is in keeping with prior 8th District decisions holding that the state has an obligation to use reasonable efforts to determine if the defendant is incarcerated in the state, and, if so, to serve him with the indictment there; four other districts have held that there is no such obligation, and only by complying with RC 2941.401 can the defendant preserve his speedy trial rights.  As it turns out, the state still brought the defendant to trial within the allotted time, since the defendant wasn't entitled to the triple-count provisions for the six months he spent in jail -- that wasn't on the "pending charge."

One more thing.  This was an opinion by Judge Mary Jane Boyle, who just took the bench in February.  She also wrote the 24-page opus on class actions that I mentioned in the case update on Monday.  Welcome to the court, judge.


Recent Entries

  • February 23, 2018
    Marsy's Law -- Restitution
    How the Victim's Rights Amendment passed last November affects restitution
  • February 20, 2018
    What's Up in the 8th
    A search decision, more "policies," and why a seminar for muni court judges on taking pleas might be a good idea
  • February 14, 2018
    Two more to death row
    A couple of death penalty decisions from the Ohio Supreme Court
  • February 12, 2018
    En banc on sentencing
    The 8th looks at the appellate court's role in reviewing sentences
  • February 8, 2018
    SCOTUS and the Fourth
    A couple of upcoming Supreme Court decisions on search and seizure
  • February 5, 2018
    What's Up in the 8th
    The benefits of appealing muni court cases, lecture time, and when you absolutely, positively, cannot raise arguments about manifest weight and sufficiency
  • February 2, 2018
    Friday Roundup
    School specs and sovereign citizens
  • January 31, 2018
    A tale of three cases
    The Ohio Supreme Court decides one case, and decides not to decide two others
  • January 29, 2018
    What's Up in the 8th
    Getting rid of an attorney, no contest pleas, and probation conditions
  • January 26, 2018
    Friday Roundup
    Information society. Last week I did a post about Aaron Judge and the lack of hard data in the field of criminal law. We have mainly anecdotal information on what kinds of sentences judges hand down, we have no idea...