The Supreme Court of Ohio recently ruled that offenders must be granted an opportunity to speak on their own behalf at community control revocation hearings.
The high court made the decision upon an appeal from the state from the judgment of the 1st District Court of Appeals in the case against Dominic Jackson.
Court documents show that Jackson pleaded guilty to a fourth-degree felony charge of receiving stolen property in 2012. The trial court sentenced him to two years of community control and required him to comply with the court’s standard community-control conditions, as well as to obtain General Education Development certification.
The trial court informed Jackson that if he violated the terms of his sanction, he could be sentenced to an 18-month prison term.
According to case summary, in May 2014, Jackson found himself back before the court for failing to abide by the requirements of his supervision by failing to attend scheduled meetings with his parole officer and failing to make payments toward court costs and fees.
At a hearing on the community control violations, the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas stated its intention to continue the hearing for 60 days in order to give Jackson “a chance to get his act together” and to work toward a GED certification.
A short exchange with the judge then took place, which the judge described as being accompanied by “sighs and eye rolling” from Jackson. The county court then terminated the community control and sentenced Jackson to 18 months in prison.
Case summary states that when Jackson attempted to explain himself, the judge told him to be quiet.
Upon Jackson’s appeal, the 1st District Court held that he was denied his right to allocution at the community control revocation hearing and that the trial court violated the Rules of Criminal Procedure by imposing a sentence without letting Jackson speak.
In its appeal to the Supreme Court, the state maintained that defendants do not have a right to allocution at community control violation hearings. The high court found otherwise.
“Crim.R. 32(A)(1), concerning the imposition of a sentence, states that ‘the court shall address the defendant personally and ask if he or she wishes to make a statement in his or her own behalf or present any information in mitigation of punishment,’” Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor wrote on behalf of the high court.
O’Connor held that the law and the Rules of Criminal Procedure “unambiguously require” that an offender be given an opportunity for allocution before a trial court imposes a sentence.
“This case presents the issue of whether a community control revocation hearing is a sentencing hearing,” O’Connor wrote. “We conclude that it is.”
Since a judge has broad discretion to fashion a sentence after finding that an offender violated the terms of a community control sanction, the justices held that “permitting an offender to speak on his or her own behalf at a community control revocation hearing serves the criminal justice system’s essential goals of fairness and due process.”
“Jackson attempted to speak several times in his own defense at the hearing and the court told him to be quiet before imposing the maximum possible prison term available in this case without affording him the opportunity to speak,” O’Connor wrote. “We recognize that Jackson fails to identify what he could have said in support of a less severe penalty.
“But we agree with the 1st District’s reasoning in this case that we should not require Jackson to present evidence to establish that the error was not harmless given that on appeal he is limited to the record that was made in the trial court and cannot present new evidence.”
Based on the sentencing statutes, rules and the high court’s own precedent, it concluded that Jackson was entitled to a new sentencing hearing.
The decision was unanimous with Justice Judith French concurring in judgment only.
The case is cited State v. Jackson, Slip Opinion No. 2016-Ohio-8127.