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June 7, 2022

Split Ohio Supreme Court rules defendant's profane outburst after getting 22 year sentence could not justify increase to 28 years

This local press report, headlined "Judge can’t increase sentence for defendant who cussed him out, Ohio Supreme Court says," reports on a notable ruling today from the Ohio Supreme Court. Here are the highlights from the article:

A Lake County judge was wrong to tack six years onto the prison sentence he gave defendant after the man called the judge a “racist a-s b----h” in court, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

Lake County Common Pleas Court Judge Eugene Lucci initially sentenced Manson Bryant to 22 years in prison in March 2019 after a jury convicted him of aggravated burglary and aggravated robbery.  But after Bryant, whose attorneys asked for a sentence similar to a co-defendant’s 12-year sentence, launched into a profanity-laden tirade against Lucci, the judge said that Bryant lacked remorse for his crimes and imposed the maximum sentence of 28 years.

The Ohio Supreme Court in a 4-3 decision held that Byrant’s statements were not related to the crimes for which he was being sentenced and therefore could not legally factor into Lucci’s sentencing decision.  The state’s high court overturned a unanimous 11th District Court of Appeals decision upholding the 28-year sentence and reinstated the original 22-year sentence.  “If a defendant’s outburst or other courtroom misbehavior causes a significant disruption that obstructs the administration of justice, that behavior may be punishable as contempt of court,” Justice Melody Stewart wrote in the majority opinion....

Justices Patrick Fischer and Patrick DeWine signed onto Justice Sharon Kennedy’s dissenting opinion that said that a judge’s determination as to whether a defendant shows remorse is not an appealable issue.

The full opinion in State v. Bryant, No. 2020-0599, 2022-Ohio-1878 (Ohio June 7, 2022), is available at this link and is worth a full read.  Here is how the opinion of the court gets started:

In this discretionary appeal from a judgment of the Eleventh District Court of Appeals, we consider whether the appellate court erred by affirming the trial court’s judgment increasing appellant Manson Bryant’s prison sentence by six years in response to Bryant’s reaction to the length of a previously imposed prison sentence. We hold that the Eleventh District erred, and we reverse the judgment affirming the trial court’s judgment increasing Bryant’s sentence. If a defendant’s outburst or other courtroom misbehavior causes a significant disruption that obstructs the administration of justice, that behavior may be punishable as contempt of court. See R.C. 2705.01. The behavior, however, may not result in an increased sentence for the underlying crime.

And here is how the dissent gets started:

This case is not about vindictive sentencing. While it may be about that issue in the minds of the majority, that is not the issue this court accepted. The only question this court accepted is whether a defendant’s in-court outburst “is punishable as contempt of court, but does not provide a lawful basis for increasing the defendant’s sentence.” Majority opinion, ¶ 16.

The correct answer to that question is: it depends. It depends on the in-court outburst.

When a defendant has an in-court outburst during a sentencing proceeding, and the defendant’s statements not only relate directly to a sentencing finding that the trial court made pursuant to R.C. 2929.12 but also negate support for that finding, the trial court is not limited to simply holding that defendant in contempt of court. The trial court is permitted to consider that in-court outburst in sentencing: here, the in-court outburst directly related to whether appellant, Manson Bryant, had displayed genuine remorse for committing various crimes or whether he was just pretending to have remorse with the hope of receiving a more lenient sentence. See R.C. 2929.12(D)(5). And under this court’s holding in State v. Jones, 163 Ohio St.3d 242, 2020-Ohio-6729, 169 N.E.3d 649, neither this court nor the court of appeals has the authority to review Bryant’s increased sentence. Because the majority holds differently, I dissent.

June 7, 2022 at 04:19 PM | Permalink

Comments

One of the fascinating things a bout this case is that after he lost by a unanimous vote at the intermediate appellate court, he appealed PRO SE to the Ohio Supreme Court, which granted his Petition and appointed the public defenders to represent him at the highest Ohio Court. Although it is not clear from this record, it appears that after the unanimous loss at the Court of Appeals, the public defenders may have declined to seek further review at the Ohio Supreme Court, leaving the defendant to file a pro se Petition for Review.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Jun 8, 2022 11:50:02 AM

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