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State v. Aldrich

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eleventh District, Ashtabula

December 11, 2017

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
EMMIT HAROLD ALDRICH, Defendant-Appellant.

         Criminal Appeal from the Ashtabula County Court of Common Pleas, Case No. 2017 CR 00070. Judgment: Affirmed.

          Nicholas A. Iarocci, Ashtabula County Prosecutor, and Shelley M. Pratt, Assistant Prosecutor, For Plaintiff-Appellee.

          Ariana E. Tarighati, Law Offices of Ariana E. Tarighati, L.P.A., For Defendant-Appellant.

          OPINION

          THOMAS R. WRIGHT, J.

         {¶1} Appellant, Emmit Harold Aldrich, appeals his vehicular homicide and failure to stop after an accident convictions. He contests the validity of his no contest plea, imposition of the maximum prison term for failure to stop, and claims ineffective assistance of trial counsel. We affirm.

         {¶2} On the evening of January 26, 2017, appellant, while operating a vehicle on Mill Street in the City of Conneaut, Ashtabula County, Ohio, hit a pedestrian crossing the road. Appellant stopped, pulled the victim to the side of the road, returned to his vehicle, and left without contacting the authorities. The victim died due to injuries suffered in the accident.

         {¶3} Appellant hid his vehicle in his girlfriend's garage in the following days. The city police department, nevertheless, determined that appellant was responsible. The grand jury returned a four-count indictment, charging one count of vehicular homicide, a first-degree misdemeanor; one count of failure to stop after an accident, a second-degree felony; and two counts of tampering with evidence, third-degree felonies.

         {¶4} After pleading not guilty, appellant moved the trial judge for recusal due to bias and knowing the victim. In an accompanying affidavit, appellant averred that the trial judge was a municipal court judge for twenty-six years before joining the common pleas bench and that during those years appellant appeared before him in multiple criminal cases.

         {¶5} In overruling the motion, the trial judge denied being acquainted with the victim. The trial judge noted that appellant appeared before him on six occasions at the municipal court, and that each case ended in appellant pleading guilty to a criminal or traffic offense, the last case being four years ago. The trial judge concluded that he could be fair and impartial.

         {¶6} During a pretrial hearing, the state offered to dismiss the two "tampering" counts in return for a no contest plea to the remaining counts. Appellant accepted the terms and executed a written plea agreement. The trial court held a plea hearing during which the court informed appellant of the constitutional rights he would be waiving in entering the no contest plea. Appellant was informed that he could not be compelled to testify, but was not told of his right to testify if he so chose. At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court accepted the no contest plea and found him guilty of vehicular homicide and failure to stop after an accident.

         {¶7} At sentencing, appellant expressed remorse and said that he did not see the victim until after his vehicle struck her. He further stated that he moved her from the roadway due to concern that another car would hit her, and that he left the scene of the accident because he panicked and there was nothing he could do to save her life. The state challenged appellant's assertion that the accident scene was dark, emphasizing that an intersection and a well-lit gas station were nearby. The state also emphasized his prior criminal record, noting three OVI convictions, multiple drug convictions, and twenty-seven prior arrests.

         {¶8} In pronouncing sentence, the trial court found that both the seriousness of appellant's actions and the likelihood that he would commit future crimes weighed in favor of imposing a maximum prison term of eight years for failure to stop after an accident. The trial court also imposed a concurrent six-month term on the vehicular homicide count.

         {¶9} Appellant appeals raising three assignments of error:

         {¶10} "[1.] Trial counsel's deficient performance during the proceedings in the lower court deprived the defendant-appellant of the effective assistance of counsel in ...


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