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Court News Ohio

Community-Control-Revocation Hearings Include Right to Allocution

Trial courts must allow offenders to speak on their own behalf during community-control-revocation hearings before imposing sentences for violating conditions of community control, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled today.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor explained the Court has determined community-control-revocation hearings are sentencing hearings.

Verbal Exchange Preceded Harsher Sentence
In September 2012, Dominic Jackson pleaded guilty to a fourth-degree-felony of receiving stolen property, with a firearm, and the trial court sentenced him to two years of community control. The conditions required him, in part, to pay court costs and probation fees, and to pass a General Educational Development (GED) test. Jackson was warned that violations of community-control conditions could result in his being sentenced to an 18-month prison term.

In May 2014, the trial court learned that Jackson failed to abide by the conditions.

In June of that year, the court held a hearing on the violations, and Jackson appeared with his attorney. Initially, the trial court intended to schedule another hearing to give the defendant 60 more days “to get [his] act together.” Instead, a verbal exchange between the judge and Jackson occurred after which the judge described Jackson’s “sighs and eye rolling.” The judge then terminated community control and sentenced Jackson to an 18-month prison term. When Jackson attempted to speak, the judge told him to be quiet.

Jackson appealed the trial court’s sentence to the First District Court of Appeals, arguing that the trial court judge violated Crim.R. 32(A)(1) by imposing a sentence without asking him if he wished to exercise his right to allocution, the right to say why the sentence should not be imposed prior to sentencing. The state, however, argued that there is no right to allocution at a community-control-revocation hearing.

The First District ruled in Jackson’s favor and agreed that the hearing was a sentencing hearing and both sentencing statutes and criminal-rule guidelines entitled him to make a statement on his behalf. The appellate court found the trial court’s error was “not harmless” and remanded the case to the trial court for resentencing.

The state appealed the First District decision to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.

Community-Control-Revocation Hearings Are Sentencing Hearings
The Supreme Court explained that the trial court must ask the offender if he or she has anything to say prior to sentencing. Citing the Court’s 2000 decision in State v. Campbell, Chief Justice O’Connor wrote, “R.C. 2929.19(A) and Crim.R. 32(A)(1) unambiguously require that an offender be given an opportunity for allocution whenever a trial court imposes a sentence at a sentencing hearing.”

The chief justice also referred to two other Court decisions: State v. Fraley, from 2004, which stated that “following a community control violation, the trial court conducts a second sentencing hearing” and State v. Heinz, from earlier this year, in which the Court reaffirmed Fraley and stated specifically in regard to community-control-revocation hearings that “[a]t this second hearing, the court sentences the offender anew and must comply with the relevant sentencing statutes.”

In response to the state’s argument that community-control-revocation hearings are not sentencing hearings because trial courts “are imposing an already existing sentence,” the Court stated, “This argument misstates the role of the court at a community-control-revocation hearing.”

The Court cited its 2004 decision in State v. Brooks, which pointed out that trial courts have great latitude when sentencing an offender for community-control violations and should consider both the seriousness of the original offense and the gravity of the community-control violation.

Further, the Court stated, “There is no predetermined sentence.” Rather, the community-control-sanctions statute grants the trial court discretion when sentencing, including imposing a longer period or more restrictive period of community control, or a prison term of any length within the range of that available for the original offense, up to the maximum term the trial court specified at the first sentencing hearing.

This “broad discretion” of a trial judge to sentence for community-control violations “reinforces our conclusion that a community-control-revocation hearing is a sentencing hearing for purposes of R.C. 2929.19(A) and Crim. R. 32(A)(1),” the Court stated. Chief Justice O’Connor went on to state that permitting an offender to speak on his or her behalf at a community-control-revocation hearing “serves the criminal-justice system’s essential goals of fairness and due process.”

By affirming the appellate decision, the case is remanded to the trial court for a new sentencing hearing, during which Jackson must be given the opportunity to make a statement on his own behalf prior to sentencing.

Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Terrence O’Donnell, Judith Ann Lanzinger, Sharon L. Kennedy, and William M. O’Neill joined the chief justice’s opinion. Justice Judith L. French concurred with the Court’s judgment only.

2015-1137. State v. Jackson, Slip Opinion No. 2016-Ohio-8127.

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