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Court News Ohio

Imposition of Less Severe Discovery Rule Sanctions Apply to State Violations

A requirement for trial courts to impose the least severe sanction for discovery rule violations applies to all violations, including those committed by the state, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled 6-1 today in State v. Darmond.

Discovery refers to the process in a trial where both parties have to share with each other the evidence they will present in the trial.

The Supreme Court previously set the trial court requirement for discovery rule violations committed by a criminal defendant in a 1987 case.

In today’s ruling, the Supreme Court determined that the trial court abused its discretion when imposing a sanction against the state for violating discovery rules because it did not explore whether a less severe sanction was appropriate before declaring a mistrial and dismissing the charges with prejudice. Consequently, the appeals court’s judgment was reversed and the case remanded to the trial court.

In his first majority opinion as a member of the court, Justice William M. O’Neill wrote that “a contrary holding would be at odds with this court’s repeated guidance that trials are to be conducted on a level playing field and Crim.R. 16’s requirement that remedies for discovery violations apply to the defense and the prosecution equally.”

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Terrence O’Donnell, Judith Ann Lanzinger, Sharon L. Kennedy, and Judith L. French joined the majority opinion.

Justice O’Neill discussed whether the holding in the earlier case, Lakewood v. Papadelis, applied to state violations, given revisions to Crim.R. 16 in 2010.

“Crim.R. 16’s emphasis on equal and reciprocal treatment of parties clarifies that the strong preference expressed in Lakewood for imposing the least severe sanction that will further the purposes of the discovery rules is a critical consideration that must be taken into account in any criminal case before a severe sanction is imposed for a discovery violation,” he wrote.

Justice O’Neill also gave some further guidance about the trial court abuse of discretion threshold.

“We emphasize that we do not hold that a discovery violation committed by the state can never result in the dismissal with prejudice of a criminal case. That option remains available when a trial court, after considering the factors set forth in Parker and Lakewood, determines that a lesser sanction would not be consistent with the purposes of the criminal discovery rules.”

Justice Pfeifer dissented, citing his view that Lakewood is in applicable in this case, and pointed to Crim.R.16(L)(1) as to how to decide the case.

“This court’s only inquiry should be whether the trial court abused its discretion in making an order it deemed ‘just under the circumstances.’ The trial court gave detailed reasoning for its dismissal of the case against the defendants, and there is no reason for this court to overturn its ruling.”

Justice Pfeifer also distinguished between the constitutional rights at stake for the defendant in Lakewood and the constitutional rights asserted by the state in Darmond.

“There is no right of complete equality of treatment between the state and a defendant, and the Constitution has seen to that,” he wrote. “Is it unfair that the state must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt rather than by a preponderance of the evidence, or that it must prepare its case quickly so that a defendant may have a speedy trial? Defendants have special rights, and courts must respect those. In determining appropriate discovery sanctions for defendants, courts must be careful to tailor the sanctions so they do not infringe on a defendant’s constitutional rights. The state does not have those same rights; thus, a trial court is not constrained to impose the least severe sanction possible to preserve those nonexistent rights.”

Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.

2012-0081 and 2012-0195.  State v. Darmond, Slip Opinion No. 2013-Ohio-966.
Cuyahoga App. Nos. 96373 and 96374, 2011-Ohio-6160.  Judgment reversed and cause remanded.
O’Connor, C.J., and O’Donnell, Lanzinger, Kennedy, French, and O’Neill, JJ., concur.
Pfeifer, J., dissents.
Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2013/2013-Ohio-966.pdf

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