The Ohio Supreme Court justices ruled yesterday that a count prosecutor cannot enter a plea agreement relating to prosecution in other counties.
The high court rejected Desmond Billingsley’s claims that Portage County could not issue him a consecutive sentence to a prior sentence because the Summit County prosecuting attorney entered a plea agreement that he would not be prosecuted in other counties for the string of robberies related to his Summit County charges.
“A county prosecuting attorney does not have authority to enter into a plea agreement on behalf of the state for crimes committed wholly outside the county in which the prosecuting attorney has been elected,” Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor.
Portage County prosecuting attorney Victor Vigluicci stated that it was unclear from the plea agreement transcription what exactly the Summit County prosecuting attorney was trying to convey. He held that if she did tell Billingsley that his cooperation would protect him from prosecutions in other counties, she did not have the authority to do so.
“If that is the case, a prosecutor cannot promise that the sentences will run concurrently,” Vigluicci said during oral argument.
Billingsley waived his right to oral argument and the Portage County Public Defender was unable to be reached prior to press deadline.
Case summary states that Summit County indicted Billingsley and four others for crimes related to a series of robberies.
Billingsley agreed to enter guilty pleas for two counts of aggravated robbery with firearm specifications, one count of attempted aggravated robbery, and to cooperate in the prosecution of his codefendants.
The Summit County prosecuting attorney acted through assistant prosecuting attorney Becky Doherty to agree to dismiss the remaining charges and, in exchange for Billingsley’s cooperation, would recommend an eight year sentence.
She also acknowledged potential charges in other counties and stated that she had contacted those counties “and can say that’s our recommendation to him, and they’ve agreed at least in the other defendants’ cases, because we’re getting these pleas here, that they will either not pursue charges on their robberies, or if they have already charged that they’ll run concurrent.”
Vigluicci denied that Doherty had contacted Portage County about the case and called the paragraph “convoluted.”
Doherty was unable to be reached for comment.
After being sentenced to eight years in prison in Summit County, Billingsley was charged with three counts of aggravated robbery in Portage County.
He argued that he was immune to charges stemming from the behavior he was convicted of in Summit County and held that any sentences Portage County may issue must run concurrently with his Summit County sentence.
The Portage County Common Pleas Court ultimately ruled that the previous prosecutor lacked the authority to make such an agreement and sentenced Billingsley to 33 years in prison, with eight to run concurrently.
The 11th District Court of Appeals affirmed and Billingsley appealed to the high court.
On review, the justices agreed with Billingsley that a prosecuting attorney has the authority to enter plea agreements on behalf of the state, but maintained that the Ohio General Assembly limited that authority.
“Based on the plain language of R.C. 309.01 and 309.08(A), we conclude that a county prosecuting attorney does not have actual authority to enter into a plea agreement on behalf of the state with respect to crimes committed wholly outside his or her county,” O’Connor stated.
They also determined that there was no evidence to show Portage County had given Doherty permission to enter the agreement on its behalf.
Still, even if Billingsley improperly relied upon the misleading information, Vigluicci argued that there were remedies available to him other than trying to restructure the authority of a prosecuting attorney.
“It’s not the court’s burden to look behind the representation of counsel in a plea agreement … but if there is a misrepresentation to the court, as I’ve said, there are a number of remedies for the defendant, maybe even remedies against the assistant prosecutor,” Vigluicci said.
The justices agreed, but held that there could be strategic reasons for not pursuing such actions and declined to address them.
“Because the Portage County prosecuting attorney had not granted the Summit County prosecuting attorney authority to bind him as to the prosecution of Billingsley for crimes committed in Portage County, the plea agreement between the Summit County prosecuting attorney and Desmond Billingsley did not preclude the Portage County prosecuting attorney from prosecuting Billingsley for crimes that he committed wholly in Portage County or from asking for consecutive sentences,” O’Connor wrote in conclusion.
The case is cited State v. Billingsley, case No. 2012-Ohio-4307.