Ohio Traffic Rule 10 And The Effect Of A No-Contest Plea

“Hurry up and wait” is a common theme in criminal court rooms across the country.  Attorneys arrive to their respective hearings earlier enough to talk with the judge and prosecutor in hopes of having their case called first to move on to the next courthouse and case.  However, sometimes the court docket is 30 pages long and the attorney has no choice but to wait patiently.

But, that is the game and attorneys know how to play it and are very much use to it.  Personally, I don’t mind it because I use that time to go over my case and to take a mental break.

Realistically, the reason the criminal court room process takes a good length of time is because the judge has to go over a lot of information with the defendant.  This includes all of the guaranteed constitutional rights the defendant will be giving up if he proceeds to a guilty plea.  In addition, the judge has to inform the defendant what the effect of his guilty or no-contest plea has in his/her case.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is my little segue to State v. Walsh, 2017-Ohio-549.

In Walsh, Walsh was involved in a motor vehicle accident and was cited for failure to drive with in marked lanes.  Walsh set his case for trial, but his witness was a no show for trial.  Walsh, with legal counsel, then entered a no-contest plea to the marked lanes violation.

The very brief colloquy between Walsh and the court is below:

Court:  Are we proceeding to trial?

Counsel:  Your Honor, there’s a plea.  No contest to the allegations.  Stipulate the facts.

Court:  Insurance?

Prosecutor:  Insurance was marked yes, Judge.

Court:  And you’ll stipulate to the guilt?

Counsel:  Correct.

Court:  Finding is guilty.

Apparently not too happy with entering a no-contest plea, Walsh appealed his case arguing that the trial court erred when it failed to advise him of the effect of his no-contest plea.

Traffic Rule 10(D) states that a trial court “shall not accept a guilty or no-contest plea without first informing the defendant of the effect of the plea of guilty, no contest, or not guilty.”  A court complies with the mandate of Traffic Rule 10(D) by “informing the defendant of the information contained in Traf.R. 10(B).”  State v. Watkins, 2003-Ohio-2419.

Traffic Rule 10(B) describes the effects of the possible pleas, nothing that “the plea of no contest is not an admission of defendant’s guilty, but is an admission of the truth of the facts alleged in the complaint and such plea or admission shall not be used against the defendant in any subsequent civil or criminal proceeding.”  Traf.R. 10(B)(2).

While a slight deviation from the text of the rule is permissible, the trial court must convey sufficient information so that a defendant subjectively understands the implications of his plea and the rights he is waving.  State v. Clark, 2008-Ohio-3748.

Based on the rules and case law, the appellate court found the above colloquy was insufficient to satisfy the notification requirements of Traf.R. 10(D).  Therefore, the judgment of the trial court was reversed and remanded back down to the trial court.

Listen, I have no doubt that the trial court probably had a very lengthy docket and the court was just trying to move the cases along as efficiently as possible.  But, as the Ohio State Supreme Court has stated in multiple cases, the rules are there for a reason!


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