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Case Update

The big case from SCOTUS this week was Blueford v. ArkansasBlueford was charged with capital murder for the death of his one-year-old son, and at trial the jury was given three other possible verdicts -- first-degree murder murder, manslaughter, and negligent homicide -- and told that they must unanimously vote to acquit on one before moving to the lesser offense.  The jury foreman reported that they were deadlocked, and when asked in open court as to the status of the deliberations, he stated that the jurors were "unanimous against" the capital and first-degree murder charges, and were deadlocked on the manslaughter.  They were unable to break that deadlock, and the judge declared a mistrial.  Blueford file a motion to prevent his retrial on the capital and first-degree murder counts, but the Arkansas courts denied that motion.

The law is clear that conviction of a lesser charge constitutes an acquittal of the greater, and if the case is subsequently reversed, the defendant faces retrial only on the lesser.  It doesn't matter whether a state follows a procedure like Arkansas', where a jury is not permitted to consider a lesser offense until it has decided to acquit on the greater, or like Ohio's, where a jury can move on to consider a lesser offense without deciding the greater one; in the latter case, conviction of the lesser operates as an "implied acquittal" of the greater.  Blueford's problem was that the foreman's announcement didn't constitute a vote of acquittal; the jury would have been free to reconsider capital or first-degree murder.  At least, that's what six of the justices concluded in Blueford, affirming the denial of his motion, with Sotomayor, Kagan, and Ginsberg dissenting.

Other big news out of SCOTUS:  this Friday the Court will update its web site capabilities to "improve the mobile device user experience."  Something envisioned by John Marshall, no doubt.  Now, when I'm sitting in court bored out of my skull waiting for the three plea hearings before mine to be concluded, instead of playing Tetris on my iPhone, I can read about the Court's latest effort to turn the Bill of Rights into an historical curiosity.

Down in Columbus, the big case was State v. EaffordFive years ago, in State v. Pelfrey, the Supreme Court held that a verdict form had to include either he degree of the offense or that the aggravated element had been found.  Eafford's verdict form found him guilty of "possession of drugs in violation of RC 2925.11(A), as charged in count two of the indictment."  The 8th District found this insufficient because it didn't specify that the drug involved was cocaine.  The Supreme Court reverses, spending little time with Pelfrey and instead determining the case on a plain error standard:  considering the indictment, the evidence, and the jury instructions, Eafford's "substantial rights" weren't violated because it was clear that he, along with everybody else, understood that he was being charged with possession of cocaine.

The court didn't overrule Pelfrey -- indeed, it mentioned it twice, and only in passing, in the context of the arguments the parties were making -- but it might as well have.   This issue will never be reviewed for anything other than plain error, because this is simply an error of omission; if the attorney raises the issue, the verdict form will be corrected.  This leaves Pelfrey to apply only to cases in which the trial occurs without any mention of exactly what the defendant is being tried for.  Good luck with that.

On to the courts of appeals...

In State v. Russell, the 2nd District notes that statutes provide that the mandatory fine for an OVI cannot be waived, even if the defendant files an affidavit of indigency and shows he is unable to pay.  Unaddressed by the court's opinion is the statute's constitutionality:  there's an abundance of case law holding that it's unconstitutional to impose a fine on an indigent... A defendant who pleads no contest cannot later challenge his conviction on the grounds of insufficient evidence, says the 9th District in State v. Srp; if the indictment or complaint contains sufficient allegations to state an offense, the trial court must find the defendant guilty... In State v. Future, the defendant was sentenced in 2008, but wasn't advised of his appellate rights.  He filed a motion for resentencing in 2011, which was unopposed and granted, to allow him to appeal.  Not the way it works, says the 8th District:  the trial court had no authority to modify its original sentencing entry, since that was a final order.  Future's remedy was to ask for leave to file a delayed appeal... Venue need not be proven in express terms, and the defendant waives his right to challenge venue when the issue is raised for the first time on appeal, the 10th District holds in State v. Shedwick... A sentencing entry saying that post-release controls are imposed for "the maximum time allowed by law" isn't sufficient, but in State v. Hill the 8th District holds that the problem is cured if the trial court accurately states the PRC time imposed at the sentencing hearing.

You have the right against self-incrimination -- oh, I didn't get to that part yet, did I?  In State v. Showes, the defendant entered a plea to two counts of robbery.  At the plea hearing, before advising the defendant of his constitutional rights, "the trial court read through the relevant counts in the indictment and had appellant [my emphasis] explain the factual circumstances of the crimes."  The court notes that having the defendant give the details of the crimes could be "problematic" if the defendant then decided not to enter a plea, but here he did, so it's all good.

There's a reason the jail tells you your phone calls will be monitored.  In State v. Wagers, the defendant tries to climb aboard the Missouri v. Frye bandwagon, claiming that his attorney never told him about a plea offer which would have given him ten years in prison, rather than the life without parole that he got.  The 12th District rejects the claim, because there's a major problem:  he's heard discussing the plea offer with his mother during phone calls he made from the jail, telling her that he's going to reject the offer and take the case "to the box."

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