High court: Judges must explain plea, not options

Unless common sense truly is dead, people understand ‘guilty’ means guilty, a
justice wrote.



COLUMBUS — Trial judges are only required to explain the results of a plea to a defendant, not the other options available, according to the Ohio Supreme Court.

The high court’ s 4-3 decision Wednesday overturned an 7th District Court of Appeals ruling involving Joseph Jones of Austintown.

In 2004, Jones was charged with three counts of domestic violence for allegedly beating his fiancé’s three children. Jones originally pleaded innocent but later agreed to plead guilty to one count in exchange for the dismissal of the other two counts.

Justice Judith Lanzinger wrote the majority opinion for the high court. She said the singular use of the word “plea” in the section of Ohio Revised Code, which deals with this type of issue, means only the plea entered — and not all possible pleas.

“We hold that in accepting a plea to a misdemeanor involving a petty offense, a trial court is required to inform the defendant only of the effect of the specific plea being entered,” Justice Lanzinger wrote. “In this case, the trial court was required to inform Jones only of the effect of a guilty plea, the plea he entered.”

During oral arguments before the Supreme Court in June, Jones’ lawyers argued Jones didn’t understand the ramifications of pleading guilty or the other plea options available at the time his case went to court.

Sentenced to serve 180 days with 170 days suspended, Jones was also ordered to pay a $150 fine and court costs, attend anger management classes, receive a psychological evaluation and attend counseling if deemed necessary by the evaluation.

Jones later tried to withdraw his guilty plea. The trial court denied the motion.

Jones appealed to the 7th District Court of Appeals. The appellate court reversed the trial court’s decision and allowed Jones to withdraw his plea and ordered the case would be decided in a trial.

Jones’ attorneys also argued the trial court did not fully explain to Jones that a guilty plea was a total admission of guilt.

The high court agreed, but said this was not reason to allow Jones to change his plea.

Justice Lanzinger said that at no point during discussions with the trial judge, did Jones claim innocence.

Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton agreed with the majority, but wrote a separate opinion on the case.

“In plain English, the trial court informed the defendant of the ‘effect’ of his plea,” Lundberg Stratton wrote. “In my view, the court does not need to tell the defendant that ‘pleading guilty’ really means ‘pleading guilty.’ Unless common sense truly is dead, a defendant should know that.”

Chief Justice Thomas Moyer wrote the dissenting opinion. Moyer said he would have remanded the case back to the trial court for a reconsideration of Jones’ plea. He was joined in his dissenting opinion by justices Maureen O’ Connor and Robert Cupp.

Justices Paul Pfeifer and Terrence O’ Donnell agreed with the majority.

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