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State v. Saunders

Court of Appeals of Ohio, First District, Hamilton

November 15, 2017

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
WESLEY SAUNDERS, Defendant-Appellant.

         Criminal Appeal From: Hamilton County Municipal Court TRIAL NO. 16CRB-2972, Judgment Appealed From Is: Affirmed in Part, Reversed in Part, and Cause

          Paula Boggs Muething, City Solicitor, Natalia Harris, City Prosecutor, and Christopher Liu, Appellate Director, for Plaintiff-Appellee,

          Raymond T. Faller, Hamilton County Public Defender, and Demetra Stamatakos, Assistant Public Defender, for Defendant-Appellant.

          OPINION

          Zayas, Presiding Judge.

         {¶1} Wesley Saunders appeals the judgment of the Hamilton County Municipal Court, convicting him, after a bench trial, of assault. We affirm the trial court's finding of guilt, but we reverse the sentence, and remand the cause to the trial court for resentencing because the trial court did not afford Saunders his right of allocution.

         Facts

         {¶2} On December 13, 2015, Wesley Saunders was involved in a car accident. While he was stopped at a red light, he was hit from behind by a car driven by Laverda Taylor. The impact of the crash caused Saunders' car to hit the car in front of him and caused his air bag to deploy. His car started smoking, and Saunders exited from the vehicle.

         {¶3} Saunders confronted Taylor and became angry and upset when he learned she had no car insurance. While Saunders was arguing with Taylor, Alfred Crawford, a passenger in Taylor's car, got out of the car. Crawford was approached by the driver of the car that was struck by Saunders' car, who demanded money and tried to reach into Crawford's pocket. After pushing the third driver's hand away, Crawford noticed Saunders becoming increasingly confrontational with Taylor.

         {¶4} Both Crawford and Taylor believed that Saunders was going to strike her, so Crawford approached and asked Saunders to back away from Taylor. Crawford and Saunders began to fight. During the altercation, Crawford, who admitted he had been drinking tequila earlier that evening, tripped on the curb and fell to the ground. While he was on the ground, Saunders put him in a chokehold. While Crawford was on the ground, he was repeatedly kicked and punched. Eventually, Crawford lost consciousness. When the police arrived, Crawford was taken to the hospital to be treated. Crawford suffered a severe concussion, a sprained knee, and multiple bruises around his eyes, neck, and elbow.

         {¶5} At trial, Saunders testified that Crawford confronted him and accused him of causing the accident. Saunders, who believed Crawford was intoxicated, stated that Crawford had swung at him first. Saunders responded by engaging in a fight and putting Crawford in a chokehold to restrain him until the police arrived. Saunders denied hitting or kicking Crawford while he restrained him, but testified that the third driver did.

         {¶6} Both Crawford and Taylor testified that Saunders hit Crawford first, and that Saunders continued to hit and kick Crawford after he was on the ground. After a bench trial, the court found Saunders guilty. The trial court determined that Crawford's testimony of the events was more credible than Saunders' version.

         {¶7} The court continued the case for sentencing and requested a presentence investigation ("PSI"). The victim did not submit to a victim-impact statement for inclusion in the PSI. At the sentencing hearing, the court invited Saunders' counsel to speak in mitigation. However, the court did not address Saunders and ask whether he wished to make a statement. The court sentenced Saunders to a suspended jail term of 180 days and one year of community control. The sentence was stayed pending appeal.

         Manifest Weight

         {¶8} In his first assignment of error, Saunders contends that the conviction was against the manifest weight of the evidence because Crawford started the fight, and Saunders merely defended himself. Saunders primarily ...


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