Why A Ohio Trial Court Cannot Sentence Someone To More Time Based on Outbursts
In March 2019, a Lake County trial court handed down a 22-year sentence to Manson Bryant for his involvement in an armed burglary of an occupied trailer home. Bryant’s response to the sentence made national news when he uttered a variety of profanities and called the trial judge a racist. Because of Bryant’s outburst, the trial judge added six additional years to Bryant’s sentence for a total of 28 years behind bars. However, on June 7, 2022, the Ohio Supreme Court determined that the trial judge could not increase Bryant’s sentence merely because of his reaction to the sentence. Click here to read the full case.
In October 2018, a Lake County grand jury indicted Manson Bryant for seven criminal counts relating to his involvement in the armed burglary of the occupied trailer home. Bryant pleaded not guilty to all counts and the matter proceeded to trial. Bryant was found guilty on all counts.
On March 1, 2019, some of Bryant’s counts were merged, such that Bryant was charged, and sentenced for Count One, aggravated burglary; Count Three, aggravated robbery; Count Six, having weapons while under a disability; and Count Seven, carrying concealed weapons.
At his sentencing hearing, Bryant’s attorney reminded the court that Bryant merely aided and abetted the co-defendant in the commission of the offense. Since Bryant’s co-defendant received only 12 years for the crimes, Bryant’s attorney requested that Bryant receive 10 years in prison for his participation in the crime.
Manson Bryant then addressed the court and requested leniency. He indicated that his drug addiction is the instigator of many of his poor decisions. However, Bryant told the court that he respected the jury’s decision and would respect whatever sentence the judge handed down.
After the State requested that Bryant receive a 20-year sentence, the judge handed down a sentence of 22 years. As the judge finished announcing the sentence, Bryant called the judge a variety of profanities and called the judge racist. The judge then stated that he was mistaken to believe that Bryant was remorseful for his crimes and tacked on an additional 6 years to Bryant’s sentence for a total of 28 years in prison. On March 4, 2019, approximately 3 days after Bryant’s sentencing hearing, the sentencing judgment was journalized.
Bryant’s Appeal to the Eleventh District Court of Appeals:
In his appeal to the Eleventh District Court of Appeals, Manson Bryant argued that the trial court should not have added six additional years to his sentence. While Bryant acknowledged that he could have received contempt charges for his outburst, he argued that his profane outburst did not indicate that he was not remorseful for his crimes.
The Eleventh District Court of Appeals relied heavily on State v. Thompson, 11th Dist. Lake No. 2017-Ohio-1001. In Thompson, the trial court added time to a defendant’s sentence after an emotional outburst. Since the sentence had not been officially journalized, the trial court could add time to a defendant’s sentence.
Additionally, the Eleventh District noted that Bryant’s outburst merely demonstrated that his statements at his sentencing were not genuine. However, the outburst did not indicate that he was not remorseful for the crimes he helped commit. Thus, the Eleventh District affirmed Bryant’s conviction and sentence. Bryant then filed a pro se appeal to the Supreme Court of Ohio.
The Main Issue before the Supreme Court of Ohio:
The main issue before the Supreme Court of Ohio was whether Bryant’s outburst warrants adding prison time to a defendant’s sentence under R.C. 2929.11 and 2929.12.
The Supreme Court of Ohio’s Holding:
The Supreme Court determined that Bryant’s outburst did not warrant adding prison time to his sentence. While the court recognized that Bryant’s outburst was certainly disrespectful to the trial court, the court indicated that his outburst was merely a reaction to the sentence and nothing more. Since the statements did not relate to the crime committed or the victims involved, the statements could not be construed as demonstrating a lack of remorse.
Further, the Supreme Court of Ohio questioned the trial judge’s motives in sentencing Bryant for the additional six years. While the Supreme Court noted that the trial court is not required to explain their findings, such a severe addition to Bryant’s sentence should have been explained by the trial judge. Particularly, the judge should have explained why Bryant’s outburst made him believe that Bryant no longer showed remorse for his crimes.
Additionally, the Supreme Court of Ohio noted the incongruity between the trial court’s findings before and after Bryant’s outburst. Before Bryant’s profane outburst, the trial court acknowledged that Bryant exhibited remorse for his crimes. After his outburst, the trial court determined that Bryant showed no remorse. This immediate switch in the trial court’s belief of the defendant’s remorsefulness concerned the Supreme Court of Ohio. As the Supreme Court of Ohio noted, an examination of Bryant’s statements during his outburst demonstrate that he still exhibited the same level of remorsefulness.
The Supreme Court of Ohio thus determined that Bryant’s statements were merely disruptive and disrespectful. Since these kinds of statements are not sentencing factors for the trial court to consider under R.C. 2929.11 and 2929.12, the six-year increase to Bryant’s sentence was contrary to law. Therefore, the Supreme Court of Ohio reversed Bryant’s sentence to the originally imposed sentence of 22 years.
Justice Kennedy’s dissent indicates that a defendant’s outburst, depending on the type of outburst, should be considered when determining whether a defendant is genuinely remorseful or not. When Bryant’s remorsefulness was considered, the trial court had not made its final order. Thus, the trial court had authority to modify the sentence.
Further, Justice Kennedy indicated that the Supreme Court of Ohio should not even be reviewing this case. In his dissenting opinion, Justice Kennedy cites State v. Jones. In Jones, the Supreme Court of Ohio determined that an appellate court is prohibited from modifying or vacating a sentence “based on a lack of support in the record for the trial court’s findings under R.C. 2929.11 and 2929.12.” State v. Bryant, Slip Opinion No. 2022-Ohio-1878 ¶ 19. Since the Supreme Court of Ohio is essentially required to evaluate the trial court’s findings under R.C. 2929.11 and 2929.12, Justice Kennedy argued that the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled contrary to the Jones decision.
Overall, the Supreme Court of Ohio’s recent decision indicates that a defendant cannot be punished with additional prison time for a profane outburst in response to a sentence. Additionally, the holding indicates that a profane outburst cannot be considered as a lack of remorse for a crime committed. While such outbursts are certainly not encouraged and might still be grounds for a contempt charge, a trial court cannot sentence someone to more time based on these outbursts.
PUBLISHER’S NOTE: I want to thank our Summer law extern Mackenzie Reiber for writing this blog post! Well done Mack! Mackenzie is now back at the University of Dayton School of Law and will be graduating law school in May of 2023. We will all miss you!
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