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Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Court Strikes Increased Prison Sentence for Profanity-Laced Outburst

Image of a man wearing jail scrubs being restrained by police officers and court bailiffs in a courtroom.

The Court ruled a Lake County man’s criminal sentence cannot be increased for unleashing a profanity-laced tirade against the trial judge.

Image of a man wearing jail scrubs being restrained by police officers and court bailiffs in a courtroom.

The Court ruled a Lake County man’s criminal sentence cannot be increased for unleashing a profanity-laced tirade against the trial judge.

A Lake County trial court could not increase a prison sentence based on the defendant’s profanity-laced tirade against the judge, the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled today.

In a 4-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Manson Bryant’s courtroom outburst upon learning of his 22-year prison sentence might have warranted a contempt of court finding; however, the trial judge could not increase the prison sentence by six years by concluding that Bryant’s outburst in response to the length of his sentence showed no remorse for the crimes he committed.

Writing for the Court majority, Justice Melody Stewart stated that “Bryant’s in-the-moment reaction to his sentence had no logical bearing on whether he had remorse.” Ohio’s criminal sentencing statutes do not authorize a trial court to impose or increase a defendant’s sentence “merely because the defendant had an outburst or expressed himself in a profane and offensive way,” she wrote.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Michael P. Donnelly and Jennifer Brunner joined Justice Stewart’s opinion.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Sharon L. Kennedy wrote the ability to increase a defendant’s sentence because of an in-court outburst depends on the nature of the outburst. She stated that after the outburst, the trial judge changed his mind about whether Bryant had genuine remorse, a sentencing finding made pursuant to R.C. 2929.12, and removed the leniency the judge intended to grant earlier. And pursuant to the Supreme Court’s 2020 State v. Jones decision, neither this court nor the court of appeals has the authority to review Bryant’s increased sentence. 

Justices Patrick F. Fischer and R. Patrick DeWine joined Justice Kennedy’s opinion.

Trial Court Considered Penalty
In 2018, Bryant was charged with seven felony counts related to his involvement with another man in the armed burglary of a trailer home. Bryant requested that some counts be tried by a jury and others in a bench trial .

Both the jury and trial judge found him guilty of the crimes, and the matter proceeded to sentencing in 2019. At the sentencing hearing, the judge explained how he intended to handle the sentences for each crime, including those with firearm specifications, which carry mandatory prison sentences.

Before the sentencing, the judge heard from Bryant, Bryant’s attorney, and an assistant Lake County prosecutor. Bryant’s attorney maintained that Bryant assisted the other offender in committing the crimes, and the attorney claimed the other man was the principal actor in the burglary. He noted that the other man received a 12-year-prison term and suggested that Bryant receive a 10-year sentence.

The assistant prosecutor disagreed with the characterization of Bryant’s role in the crime and also noted that Bryant had an extensive criminal history, which included violations of probation and postrelease control. The prosecutor suggested at least a 20-year sentence.

Bryant addressed the court and said he made a lifetime of bad decisions, but having gone through the trial, he had a newfound respect for the process and the opportunity to be heard. He said he did not want to die in prison and asked the judge to give him an opportunity to make something out of his life.

Sentence Led to Outburst
The trial judge then stated the court considered the statements along with several other factors. The judge noted that Bryant failed to respond to rehabilitation and comply with probation requirements. The judge also noted that Bryant “showed a certain amount of remorse.”

He sentenced Bryant to eight years in prison each for aggravated burglary and aggravated robbery, which both carry a maximum 11-year sentence. He imposed the two eight-year sentences consecutively along with two three-year prison terms for the firearm specifications. The sentences for the other crimes were ordered to be served concurrently, leading to a total prison sentence of 22 years.

When the judge finished announcing the sentence, Bryant began yelling profanities at the judge and accused him of being a racist.

As Bryant was being restrained, the judge stated, “Remember when I said that you had some remorse?”  Bryant interrupted, stating, “You never gave me probation,” and “You never gave me a chance.”

The judge responded that “when I said you had a certain amount of remorse, I was mistaken.” The judge changed the eight-year sentences to the maximum 11-year terms, increasing the total time in prison to 28 years.

After Bryant was removed from the courtroom, the judge told the attorneys that Bryant “has shown no remorse whatsoever. I was giving him remorse, a certain amount of remorse in mitigation of the sentence.”

Offender Challenged Sentence
Bryant appealed his conviction and sentence to the Eleventh District Court of Appeals on several grounds, including that his courtroom behavior could be punished as contempt of court, but could not result in adding six years to his prison sentence for robbery and burglary. He said his statements were a verbal attack on the trial court and did not amount to a showing of no remorse for his crimes.

The Eleventh District affirmed the sentence. Bryant appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.

Supreme Court Analyzed Sentencing Process
The Court noted that trial judges must consider the factors in R.C. 2929.11 and R.C. 2929.12 when determining a criminal sentence. Under R.C. 2929.12(D)(5) and (E)(5), a trial court can consider a showing of “genuine remorse” or a showing of “no genuine remorse” when imposing a sentence. Justice Stewart explained that neither law allows a court to consider a defendant’s show of disrespect toward a court when it decides what sentence to impose.

The opinion stated that Bryant’s tirade was disrespectful to the court, but it was clear from the timing and content of what was said that Bryant was reacting to the length of his prison sentence.

“From start to finish, Bryant’s focus never deviated from the sentencing judge as the subject of his ire,” the opinion stated.

Bryant’s statements did not relate to or address his crimes or the victims in any manner that might indicate a lack of remorse, or somehow negate the remorse the court believed he had shown earlier, the Supreme Court ruled. While lack of remorse is a sentencing factor, there was no “honest and logical assessment” of Bryant’s outburst that could be construed as a lack of remorse for his crimes, the opinion stated.

The trial court did not disclose what aspect of Bryant’s behavior led it to the conclusion that Bryant had shown “no remorse whatsoever,” and the “immediate and severe sentencing increase raises serious doubts about the trial court’s true motivations,” the Court wrote.

The Court modified the 28-year prison sentence by directing the trial court to reimpose the original 22-year sentence.

Sentence Could Be Increased, Dissent Maintained
Justice Kennedy began by noting that a trial court’s sentence is not final until it is officially entered in the court journal by the clerk of courts. In this case, when the judge reconsidered his remorse finding after Bryant’s outburst, the sentence was not final. Therefore, the judge was authorized to modify the sentence after the outburst and the increased sentence was not contrary to law.

The dissent recognized that an appellate court’s authority to review a sentence is limited by R.C. 2953.08. It continued that the Supreme Court recently interpreted R.C. 2953.08(B)(2) in Jones, which held that the appellate courts and Supreme Court have no authority to review the findings made by a trial judge under R.C. 2929.11 and R.C. 2929.12. Because the trial court revisited its finding regarding remorse, pursuant to R.C. 2929.12, in increasing Bryant’s sentence after his outburst, the Court had no authority to review the remorse finding to determine whether the trial court erred in its determination, the dissent concluded.

The dissent maintained that the problem with the majority’s consideration of the trial court’s remorse finding was that it required the majority to do precisely what was prohibited by Jones — review an R.C. 2929.12 finding. The actual motivation for the majority’s judgment is based on the belief the sentencing judge could not separate his obligations as a judge from his personal feelings about Bryant and Bryant’s in-court outburst, the dissent stated. But nothing in the record indicated the judge engaged in a shouting match or heated exchange with Bryant, but simply stated that he was mistaken that Bryant had shown remorse.

The dissent continued that what the majority actually believes is that the sentence was retaliatory. However, Bryant failed to allege or argue this issue. Nonetheless, contrary to how our adversarial system of adjudication works, the majority “has written Bryant’s brief , pronounced itself convinced by the very issue that it has researched and written, and ruled in Bryant’s favor,” the dissent wrote.

2020-0599. State v. Bryant, Slip Opinion No. 2022-Ohio-1878.

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