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Motion to Withdraw Guilty Plea in Child Endangerment Case

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A defendant appealed a decision of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, which denied his motion to withdraw his plea of guilty to the charge of endangering children (a third degree felony). The defendant maintains that the court in Franklin County improperly denied his motion to withdraw the guilty plea.

The defendant was charged with endangering children after it was alleged he provided heroin to his 15-year-old son. At the time this charge was filed, the defendant was currently on community control. The defendant was offered a plea bargain, wherein he would plead guilty to a single charge of endangering children in exchange for the State’s recommendation that the defendant continue community control.

In most cases handled in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, the State’s recommendation is generally accepted by the trial court judge pending the defendant’s acceptance of the plea bargain. In this case though, although the defendant accepted the plea bargain, the judge sentenced him to prison.

In this particular case, the judge who accepted the defendant’s guilty plea was not the same judge who presided over the sentencing hearing. The new judge concluded that a joint recommendation of community control was never promised, and decided to sentence him to prison anyway.

The defendant was informed by his counsel of the new judge’s decision prior to sentencing, so the defendant asked if he could withdraw his guilty plea, a request that the judge denied, citing Ohio Supreme Court case State v. Xie, which says, “A defendant does not have an absolute right to withdraw a guilty plea prior to sentencing. A trial court must conduct a hearing to determine whether there is a reasonable and legitimate basis for the withdrawal of the plea.”

The trial court did just that, holding a hearing to determine the legitimacy of the defendant’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea. After that hearing, the trial court judge still decided to disallow the plea withdrawal.

On appeal, the appellate court’s job was to determine if the trial court erred in refusing the motion to withdraw the plea by abusing its discretion in the matter. After deliberation of the facts, the appellate court sustained the defendant-appellant’s assignment of error, vacated his conviction, and remanded the case for new proceedings.

The appellate court’s hope is that with a more accurate understanding of the terms of the original plea bargain, the court will be able to more accurately evaluate the defendant’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea. You can read the case in full at State v. Buell, 2016-Ohio-2734.