State v. Stewart

Decision Date13 July 1977
Docket NumberNo. 77-83,77-83
Citation51 Ohio St.2d 86,5 O.O.3d 52,364 N.E.2d 1163
Parties, 5 O.O.3d 52 The STATE of Ohio, Appellee, v. STEWART, Appellant.
CourtOhio Supreme Court

Syllabus by the Court

Where an individual is indicted on a charge of aggravated murder, with specifications thereto, and the trial court accepts a plea of guilty to the lesser included offense of murder (R.C. 2903.02) without personally advising the defendant that he is ineligible for probation, such omission does not constitute prejudicial error, and there is substantial compliance with the provisions of Crim.R. 11. (Paragraph one of the syllabus in State v. Caudill, 48 Ohio St.2d 342, 358 N.E.2d 601, modified.)

On March 26, 1975, the appellant, Ronald E. Stewart, and three others, were indicted by the grand jury of Belmont County on two counts of aggravated murder with specifications, and on counts of kidnapping and aggravated robbery. It was alleged that on February 28, 1975, Thomas J. Carney, an employee of A & P Grocery Store in Martins Ferry, had been abducted from the parking lot by Stewart and the others as they were looking over the premises preparatory to a robbery. Stewart was in the back seat of a stolen automobile holding a double-barreled, sawed-off, 12 gauge shotgun to the back of Carney's head when both barrels discharged killing Carney.

On May 30, 1975, pursuant to extensive plea negotiations, Stewart, represented by two experienced lawyers, entered a plea of guilty to a lesser included offense of murder (R.C. 2903.02), and the remaining counts of the indictment were dismissed. In tendering the guilty plea, appellant also executed a "Petition to Enter Plea of Guilty" encompassing two and one-half typewritten pages. The trial court did not inform the appellant that subject to a guilty plea to murder (R.C. 2903.02), he was not eligible for probation nor was any request for probation made by appellant or counsel. He was sentenced to "not less than fifteen years to life."

A delayed appeal was taken to the Court of Appeals for Belmont County with new appointed counsel, which resulted in an affirmance on November 3, 1976.

On January 3, 1977, the Court of Appeals for Belmont County having found its pronounced judgment to be in conflict with the judgments of the Courts of Appeals for Allen and Cuyahoga Counties certified the record to this court for review and final determination pursuant to Section 3(B)(4) of Article IV of the Ohio Constitution.

Charles H. Bean, Sp. Pros. Atty., Willoughby, for appellee.

Lancione, Lancione, Lancione & Hanson and Richard L. Lancione, Bellaire, for appellant.


The appellant's sole proposition of law for this court's consideration charges that a trial court, in accepting a guilty plea in a felony case must comply with Crim.R. 11. Appellant's specific complaint alleges that the trial court failed to advise him that in pleading guilty to murder (R.C. 2903.02), 1 he would not be eligible for probation. 2

In the case of State v. Younger (1975), 46 Ohio App.2d 269, 349 N.E.2d 322, from the Court of Appeals for Cuyahoga County, the court, in a well reasoned opinion, concluded with the following:

"Criminal Rule 11(C)(2) clearly and distinctly mandates that the trial judge, before accepting a guilty plea in a felony case, inform the defendant of his rights as expressed in the rule and determine that he understands those rights and that he is making his guilty plea voluntarily."

That court reasoned that it would be difficult for a defendant to voluntarily waive constitutional rights in a knowing and intelligent manner if those rights were not explained and understood. The trial court in the Younger case had apparently "failed to address the defendant personally and determine that the defendant was making his guilty plea voluntarily"; failed to determine that the defendant understood that "he could not be compelled to testify against himself" if he stood trial; failed to advise the defendant of a potential fine; and failed to determine if defendant understood that upon acceptance of his guilty plea the court "could proceed with judgment and sentence."

This court is satisfied that the Younger case is distinguishable on the above facts.

The Court of Appeals for Allen County, in the case of State v. Scott (1974), 40 Ohio App.2d 139, 143, 318 N.E.2d 416, 419, reversed a guilty plea with the following observation:

"(I)t appears that the court (1) did not examine him as to his understanding that he would not be eligible for probation, (2) did not inform him and determine his understanding that by his plea he was waiving his right to confront witnesses against him, (3) did not inform him and determine his understanding that by his plea he was waiving his right to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and (4) did not inform him and determine his understanding that by his plea he was waiving his right to require the state to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at a trial at which he cannot be compelled to testify against himself."

That the last three of the above are constitutional rights which must be expressly understood and relinquished is not arguable. 3 The appellant here does not raise a question concerning his knowledgeable waiver of these rights and the record would clearly and affirmatively rebut any such claim. Appellant's sole concern is with the fact that he was not informed that he would not be eligible for probation.

The dialogue at the time the plea was accepted reveals the following:

"The Court: State of Ohio v. Ronald E. Stewart. State ready?

"Mr. Malik: State is ready.

"The Court: Is the Defendant ready?

"Mr. Chaney: Yes, Your Honor.

"The Court: You may proceed.

"Mr. Malik: If the Court pleases, the State of the Ohio has entered into some plea bargaining with Defendant and Defendant's Counsel, and after about two weeks of it, the state of Ohio has agreed to permit the Defendant to enter a plea of Guilty to Revised Code, Section 2903.02, Murder, which is the lesser included offense of the Section charged in the Indictment, 2903.01 A and Sub-Section B, and in addition, for said plea, the State will move that charges of Aggravated Murder, two counts, the charge of Kidnapping and the charge of Aggravated Burglary be dismissed.

"The Court: May be done."

These opening remarks encompass the extent of the plea negotiation concerning the underlying agreement in the event the ultimate plea is consummated. The following language clearly indicates this purpose:

"Mr. Chaney: We wish to withdraw the plea of Not Guilty to the charges in the Indictment and request that the charges as set forth in there not be charged against Mr. Stewart, but that he shall enter a plea of Guilty to Section 2903.02, Ohio Revised Code. Is that your wishes and desire, Mr. Stewart?

"A. Yes.

"The Court: Are you withdrawing your former plea of Not Guilty to the original charge?

"Mr. Chaney: Yes. We are asking first those charges be dismissed."

At this point the following colloquy takes place between the court and the appellant:

"The Court: They have been. Mr. Stewart, you may stand. Do you withdraw your former plea of Not Guilty and enter a plea of Guilty to the lesser included offense of Murder?

"A. Yes.

"Q. You do that voluntarily?

"A. Yes, sir.

"Q. You understand the nature of the charge?

"A. Yes, sir.

"Q. You understand the maximum penalty that is involved?

"A. Yes.

"Q. You further understand the Court may sentence you today?

"A. Yes, sir.

"Q. You further understand that if you stood trial by Jury that the state of Ohio must prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt?

"A. Yes.

"Q. You further understand that you have a right to confront the witnesses of the state of Ohio, if you stood trial?

"A. Yes.

"Q. You further understand that you have a right to subpoena witnesses on your behalf if you stood trial?

"A. Yes.

"Q. You further understand that if you stood trial that you would not have to testify?

"A. Yes.

"Q. You voluntarily signed a Petition that was presented to you?

"Mr. Chaney: Here it is.

"Q. Do you understand the contents of that Petition?

"A. Yes, sir.

"Q. You may sign it.

"(WHEREUPON, Petition is signed in open Court.)

"Q. Now, the terms and the contents of this Petition, have they been read to you?

"A. Yes.

"Q. You fully understood the contents therein?

"A. Yes.

"Q. You voluntarily signed this Petition, is that correct?

"A. Yes.

"Q. Under the law of Ohio, no person shall purposely cause the death of another. Whoever violates this Section is Guilty of Murder and shall be punished as provided in Section 2929.02 of the Revised Code of Ohio, which reads as follows: 'Whoever is convicted of or pleads guilty to murder in violation of Section 2903.02 of the Revised Code shall be imprisoned for an indefinite term of fifteen years to life. In addition, the offender may be fined an amount fixed by the court, but not more than fifteen thousand dollars.'

"Mr. Stewart, do you have anything personally to say before the sentence of the Court is pronounced against you? Your Counsel may speak for you if you don't wish to speak. You may be seated." * * *

The petition which appellant signed in open court contains the following language:

"I declare that no officer or agent of any branch of government (Federal, State or local) nor any other person, has made a promise or suggestion of any kind to me, or within my knowledge to anyone else, that I would receive a lighter sentence, or probation, or any other form of leniency if I would plead 'Guilty.' "

We are satisfied that the appellant at the time his guilty plea was accepted was advised of the consequences of his plea, and that he was facing imminent sentence. The trial judge did not recant the precise verbiage of Crim.R. 11(C) (2)(a), "that he is not eligible for probation," but the court did specifically inform the appellant of the maximum penalty. Under the circumstances in this case,...

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