State v. Straley, 2018-1176

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Ohio
Citation159 Ohio St.3d 82,147 N.E.3d 623,2019 Ohio 5206
Docket NumberNo. 2018-1176,2018-1176
Parties The STATE of Ohio, Appellant, v. STRALEY, Appellee.
Decision Date19 December 2019

159 Ohio St.3d 82
147 N.E.3d 623
2019 Ohio 5206

The STATE of Ohio, Appellant,
STRALEY, Appellee.

No. 2018-1176

Supreme Court of Ohio.

Submitted August 6, 2019
Decided December 19, 2019

Anneka Collins, Highland County Prosecuting Attorney, for appellant.

Timothy Young, Ohio Public Defender, and Peter Galyardt, Assistant Public Defender, for appellee.

French, J.

159 Ohio St.3d 82

{¶ 1} This appeal asks whether a defendant who pleads guilty suffers a manifest injustice under Crim.R. 32.1 if the trial court fails to tell the defendant during his plea colloquy that a portion of his agreed-upon sentence is mandatory. Here, the court of appeals misapplied our precedent on both void sentences and postsentencing motions to withdraw a guilty plea and concluded that appellee, Gregory S. Straley, should be permitted to withdraw his guilty plea. We reverse the judgment of the Fourth District Court of Appeals and reinstate the trial court's judgment denying Straley's motion to withdraw his guilty plea.

I. Facts and Procedural History

{¶ 2} In 2009, appellant, the state of Ohio, and Straley entered into a negotiated plea agreement through which Straley would plead guilty to 8 of the 14 counts for which he was indicted. The counts to which he agreed to plead included 3 counts of second-degree-felony sexual battery under R.C. 2907.03(A)(5) (the victim was under 13 years old at the time of the offenses). In exchange for Straley's agreement to plead guilty to those 8 counts, the state agreed to dismiss the other 6 counts of the indictment. The parties also agreed to a recommended sentence on each of the counts,

147 N.E.3d 626

with an aggregate sentence of 35 years and 10 months.

{¶ 3} At the time Straley was charged with violating R.C. 2907.03(A)(5), R.C. 2907.03(B) and 2929.13(F)(3) required mandatory prison sentences when the victim was under 13 years of age. Am.Sub.H.B. No. 95, 151 Ohio Laws, Part IV, 7059, 7067, 7087-7088. Straley's guilty-plea form included spaces for indicating whether a prison term was mandatory for each offense. The word "No" is

159 Ohio St.3d 83

handwritten in the corresponding spaces for each sexual-battery charge. The form also indicates that a "prison term is presumed necessary" for those charges.

{¶ 4} The trial court told Straley during his plea colloquy that none of his prison sentences were mandatory and that while it would not impose community control, Ohio law allowed community control to be imposed:

Okay. Now, under the law none of these sentences are mandatory, meaning that you have to be sent to prison. Some cases there are mandatory prison sentences where community control is not permitted. Community control is permitted by law in this case. It's not recommended and it's improbable that even if it were recommended that it would be granted. * * * So, you understand that that is legally possible, although it's not going to happen in this case?

The trial court also confirmed with Straley that he understood that he was agreeing to plead guilty to the specified charges "in exchange for a recommendation from the state of 35 years and ten months incarceration, and a dismissal of the other counts of the indictment." The court accepted Straley's guilty plea and imposed the agreed-upon aggregate sentence, which included consecutive seven-year prison terms for the three second-degree-felony sexual-battery offenses. Straley's sentencing entry also indicated that none of his prison sentences were mandatory.

{¶ 5} On direct appeal, Straley argued that the trial court erred by imposing mandatory sentences without first telling him they were mandatory. The court of appeals held that because the parties agreed to the sentences and the sentences were clearly authorized by law, they were not reviewable under R.C. 2953.08(D)(1). State v. Straley , 4th Dist. Highland No. 09CA4, 2009-Ohio-6170, 2009 WL 4021379, ¶ 23-26 (" Straley I ").

{¶ 6} In 2017, Straley filed a postsentencing motion under Crim.R. 32.1 to withdraw his guilty plea. He argued that res judicata did not apply and that his guilty plea was invalid because the trial court imposed nonmandatory prison terms for his second-degree-felony sexual-battery convictions instead of mandatory ones. The trial court denied the motion, finding that res judicata barred it, that Straley had not demonstrated a manifest injustice under Crim.R. 32.1 because he did not allege that at the time of his plea he was unaware that the sentences were mandatory, and that Straley had waited too long—eight years—to file his motion.

{¶ 7} In a two-to-one decision, the Fourth District Court of Appeals reversed. 2018-Ohio-3080, 107 N.E.3d 8, ¶ 9 (" Straley II "). The court noted that Straley had raised the sentencing-error argument on direct appeal, but the court of appeals in Straley I held that R.C. 2953.08(D)(1) precluded review of the agreed sentence.

159 Ohio St.3d 84

Straley II at ¶ 7, 17. Nonetheless, the court of appeals cited our precedent on void and voidable sentences. Because the trial court sentenced Straley to nonmandatory

147 N.E.3d 627

prison terms in contravention of Ohio law, the court of appeals held that the sentences were void. Id. at ¶ 21. As such, res judicata did not apply, and the sentences could be reviewed at any time. Id. at ¶ 19-21, citing State v. Williams , 148 Ohio St.3d 403, 2016-Ohio-7658, 71 N.E.3d 234, ¶ 22.

{¶ 8} Next, the court of appeals rejected the state's argument that agreed-upon sentences could not be reviewed under Ohio law. Id. at ¶ 22. Citing our decision in State v. Underwood , 124 Ohio St.3d 365, 2010-Ohio-1, 922 N.E.2d 923, the court said that " ‘a trial court does not have the discretion to exercise its jurisdiction in a manner that ignores mandatory statutory provisions.’ " Straley II at ¶ 23, quoting Underwood at ¶ 20. It also rejected the state's argument that Straley knew that he had been sentenced to a prison term of 35 years and 10 months. Instead, the appellate court held that the trial court's failure to follow the statutory mandate "prejudiced Straley because it rendered his sentence void so that he has not yet been properly and legally sentenced in the underlying case." Id. at ¶ 26.

{¶ 9} The court of appeals ultimately held that the trial court's error amounted to a manifest injustice because "the trial court misadvised Straley that his entire 35 year, 10 month agreed prison sentence was non-mandatory even though R.C. 2929.13(F)(3) made 21 years of that sentence mandatory." Straley II , 2018-Ohio-3080, 107 N.E.3d 8, at ¶ 31. Regarding Straley's eight-year delay in filing his motion to withdraw, the court held that he was "permitted to contest the sentence at any time," "[b]ecause his sentence was void in that it included 21 years of nonmandatory prison time for his three second-degree felony sexual battery convictions." Id. at ¶ 32. Although the court was "completely cognizant of the absurdity of this result," it nonetheless found itself bound by Ohio statutory law and our interpretation of it. Id. at ¶ 34.

{¶ 10} In a concurring opinion, Judge Harsha expressed further frustration with the "absurd" result:

[T]he real absurdity here is the fact that if Straley had taken a direct appeal and won, his sentence would have been vacated but his conviction would have remained in effect. Only the illegal sentence was void. * * * Here he waits 8 years, makes a motion to withdraw his plea based upon the imposition of an illegal, i.e. void, sentence. Now his motion to withdraw his plea must be granted, and his conviction vacated based upon the Supreme Court of Ohio's determination that a trial court's failure to follow a mandatory sentencing provision results in the sentence not simply being erroneous and thus voidable, but rather, void ab initio. Accordingly, such
159 Ohio St.3d 85
an error need not be raised on direct appeal, but is subject to collateral attack at any time, by a motion to vacate.

Id. at ¶ 36 (Harsha, J., concurring).

{¶ 11} Writing in dissent, Judge Abele agreed that the result is absurd and that we should reconsider our void-sentence jurisprudence. He opined that the "root of the problem is the supreme court's characterization of errors in sentencing as void judgments. Generally, a void judgment is one that a court issues when it lacks jurisdiction over the parties or the subject matter, or if a court lacks the inherent power to enter a particular judgment." Id. at ¶ 40 (Abele, J., dissenting). "This is not the situation when Ohio common pleas courts issue felony sentences, unless, for example,

147 N.E.3d 628

the court exceeds the maximum sentence or somehow strays beyond the court's specific jurisdiction." Id. He concluded that Straley is entitled to a remedy to correct his sentence, or to see that he receives the benefit of his bargain, but that the withdrawal of his guilty pleas after eight years does not serve the interests of justice. Id.

{¶ 12} The state...

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