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State v. Gaughan: Sixth District Reverses Denial of Motion to Withdraw Plea

By: Megan Patituce

It has long been established that the opportunity to withdraw a plea prior to sentencing should be liberally granted.  Prior to any withdrawal, however, trial courts must engage in a review of the facts in light of various factors.  In Oregon v. Gaughan, 6th Dist. Lucas No. L-19-1084, 2020-Ohio-4092, the Sixth District had the opportunity to engage in a thorough review of the factors before reversing the trial court’s denial of Mr. Gaughan’s motion seeking to withdraw his plea.

            Mr. Gaughan was arrested on December 5, 2018 and faced an unattainable bond.  He entered a plea of not guilty on December 7, 2018.  Four days later, while maintaining his innocence, he entered a plea of no contest so that he might secure his release and maintain his employment and housing.

            Subsequent to entering his plea but prior to being sentenced, Mr. Gaughan discovered that the alleged victim had provided exculpatory information in her victim-impact statement and, for that reason, he moved to withdraw his plea.  After a hearing at which the alleged victim testified, the trial court denied the motion.  In denying Mr. Gaughan’s motion, the trial court focused not on the factors relevant to a motion to withdraw, but rather whether he believed the alleged victim.

            The Sixth District took considerable time discussing the trial court’s consideration of Mr. Gaughan’s motion, which the law requires be full and fair.  In this case, it was not.  Upon questioning by the defense, the alleged victim denied recanting.  Upon questioning by the state, however, she was able to testify at length.  The trial court denied the defense the opportunity to review her written statement so that it might be used to question the inconsistencies and then engaged in its own line of questioning.  The decision is worth a read not just for its discussion of this factor, but for its meaningful reasoning across all of the factors.

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