Right to Attorney Applies at Resentencing Hearings
The Ohio Supreme Court ruled today that criminal defendants are entitled to counsel at resentencing hearings held to impose postrelease control.
However, in this case the defendant, Curtis D. Schleiger, “knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily” waived his right to an attorney at the hearing, Justice Terrence O’Donnell wrote in the court’s opinion.
The decision resolves a conflict among Ohio appellate courts about whether defendants have the right to be represented by an attorney at these types of resentencing hearings.
In August 2009, a jury found Schleiger guilty of felonious assault and carrying a concealed weapon. He was sentenced to eight years in prison for the assault and 18 months for the concealed weapon charge.
Schleiger appealed, and the appeals court stated that the trial court improperly imposed his postrelease control and returned the case to the trial court for resentencing.
At the resentencing hearing, the trial court offered to appoint counsel for Schleiger and informed him that an attorney in the courtroom could represent him or assist with any questions. Schleiger talked to the attorney and then told the court he wanted to represent himself. At the trial court’s request, the standby counsel remained in the courtroom to assist if needed.
The court resentenced Schleiger to three years of mandatory postrelease control after his release from prison.
On appeal, the Twelfth District Court of Appeals determined that an offender does not have a right to counsel at resentencing hearings imposing mandatory postrelease control. The decision aligned with rulings from four other appellate districts in the state. But it conflicted with a decision from the Third District Court of Appeals. The Twelfth District notified the Supreme Court of the conflict.
Citing U.S. Supreme Court precedent, Justice O’Donnell explained that the right to counsel under the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution applies to critical stages of criminal proceedings, and sentencing is one of those stages.
He wrote that a resentencing hearing conducted to impose statutorily mandated postrelease control is a critical stage of a criminal proceeding because it involves sentencing.
He noted that a trial court may correct an improper postrelease control sentence by following the procedures set forth in R.C. 2929.191, which requires the court to hold a hearing.
“Although a resentencing hearing to impose a mandatory term of postrelease control requires the court to adhere to R.C. 2929.191, counsel’s presence assures that the court complies with the directives of the statute, that it does not exceed the scope of the hearing, that the defendant understands the imposition of postrelease control, and that issues are properly preserved for appellate review,” Justice O’Donnell wrote.
The court then turned to whether Schleiger had waived his right to counsel. One of Ohio’s rules governing criminal proceedings states that a defendant charged with a serious offense may only waive counsel “knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily.” Justice O’Donnell noted that the trial court reviewed Schleiger’s presentence investigation report, had an understanding of his background and his ability to grasp the nature of the hearing, and assessed any legal danger associated with him proceeding without attorney representation. Justice O’Donnell concluded that the record shows that Schleiger knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived his right to counsel.
Joining the majority opinion were Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Paul E. Pfeifer and William M. O’Neill.
Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger wrote separately to concur in the court’s judgment that Schleiger had waived his right to counsel but to dissent from the majority’s holding that criminal defendants are entitled to counsel at postrelease control resentencing hearings. Her opinion was joined by Justices Sharon L. Kennedy and Judith L. French.
Justice Lanzinger reasoned that an attorney is not necessary at a resentencing hearing on postrelease control because the court is simply issuing a correction to its earlier judgment. The resentencing hearing for Schleiger only imposed the sentence of postrelease control that was mandated by statute, she noted.
“By mandating the right to defense counsel for a hearing that simply concerns the correction of a postrelease-control error, the majority unduly broadens the meaning of ‘critical stage’ of criminal proceedings,” Justice Lanzinger wrote. “Schleiger’s prison sentence was already imposed and remained intact, and the hearing at issue was held merely to correct the omission of the fact that he was subject to three years of mandatory postrelease control. This ministerial correction did not involve any discretion and did not (and could not) change his original sentence of incarceration.”
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