By: Megan Patituce
The importance of counsel can never be underestimated. Both the United States and Ohio Constitutions were designed to ensure individuals had access to the effective representation of counsel. In Ohio’s Third District, that right is alive and well.
In the recent State v. Patterson, 3rd Dist. Hancock No. 5-19-34, 2020-Ohio-1437 (Apr. 13, 2020), Mr. Patterson had twice entered notices of appearance indicating his intend to proceed pro se. He then filed a motion to correct a void judgment, for which the trial court scheduled a video conference hearing for the purpose of resentencing. Mr. Patterson promptly filed motion demanding that he be personally present and permitted to personally consult with counsel, which was denied and the court proceeded with the resentencing by video.
The underlying sentencing issue stemmed from the trial courts improper notification as to PRC sanctions. During the resentencing hearing, Mr. Patterson not only expressed his confusion but expressly articulated his demand to be present and to have an attorney. Despite this, the trial court proceeded through the resentencing hearing.
The Third District noted that Mr. Patterson had initially been clear in his desire to proceed pro se but found that he appeared to change his mind. Without counsel, Mr. Patterson was forced rely upon the trial court’s statements, without the benefit of legal counsel to assist in deciphering legal terminology. As such, the trial court erred by refusing to stop the resentencing hearing to further inquire into Mr. Patterson’s position on self-representation and, if appropriate, ensure counsel was present prior to proceeding.
The right to counsel is fundamental. Trial courts are obligated to ensure that those rights are protected, especially where the waters become murky.