Lack of notice about court costs insufficient to void judgment

By | 2016-08-23T00:00:20+00:00 Monday, August 22, 2016|

In a per curiam opinion issued by the 1st District Court of Appeals, a three-judge appellate panel recently held that a trial court’s judgment was not void when it failed to inform a defendant of the consequences of not paying court costs.

Jeffrey Hengehold was convicted of murder and arson in 1991 for the killing of Linda Evers-Hoberg, whose skeletal remains were recovered from a burned car. His convictions were affirmed on direct appeal.

Hengehold’s 2015 motion for resentencing was based on the trial court’s alleged failure to provide notice that he could be ordered to perform community service if he did not pay the costs of his prosecution and his counsel’s ineffectiveness for not objecting to that failure.

“With his claim that his trial counsel had been ineffective concerning community-service-for-nonpayment-of-costs notification, Hengehold effectively invoked the Sixth and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 10 of the Ohio Constitution,” the appellate panel noted. “Thus … his motion may fairly be read to seek resentencing based on a constitutional violation in the proceedings leading to his conviction.”

However, the court also noted that Hengehold filed his petition well after the time prescribed by the Ohio Revised Code had expired and the jurisdiction of a common pleas court to entertain a late postconviction claim is closely circumscribed.

It fell on Hengehold to prove that he was unavoidably prevented from discovering the facts upon which his postconviction claims depended and that, but for the error at his trial, no reasonable jury could have found him guilty.

“The record does not, as it could not, demonstrate that, but for trial counsel’s alleged ineffectiveness concerning community-service-for-nonpayment-of-costs notification, no reasonable factfinder would have found Hengehold guilty of the offenses of which he was convicted,” the reviewing court held.

Since Hengehold failed to meet the requirements of a postconviction petition, the court of appeals held that the trial court did not have jurisdiction to entertain his challenge.

The higher court also noted that it was unclear why Hengehold sought resentencing based on the lack of court cost notifications more than 23 years after his direct appeal.

“Finally, courts always have jurisdiction to correct a void judgment,” the appellate panel wrote. “But Hengehold’s sentences would not have been rendered void by the alleged error in the imposition of costs, by the lack of community-service-for-nonpayment-of-costs notification or by trial counsel’s alleged ineffectiveness concerning that notification.”

The dismissal of Hengehold’s petition was ultimately affirmed by a unanimous appellate panel made up of Presiding Judge Patrick Fischer and Judges Sylvia Hendon and Patrick DeWine.

The case is cited State v. Hengehold, 2016-Ohio-5383.

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