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State v. Huddleston

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Third District, Logan

March 26, 2018

STATE OF OHIO, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
ZACHARIAH HUDDLESTON, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.

          Appeal from Logan County Common Pleas Court Trial Court No. CR16-12-0339

          Craig M. Jaquith for Appellant

          Eric C. Stewart for Appellee

          OPINION

          ZIMMERMAN, J.

         {¶1} Appellant, Zachariah Huddleston ("Huddleston"), appeals the judgment and sentence of the Logan County Common Pleas Court wherein he was found guilty of one count of Aggravated Robbery; one count of Aggravated Burglary; one count of Murder; and one count of Having Weapons While Under Disability. He was also found guilty of a gun specification pursuant to R.C. 2941.145 relative to Counts One, Two and Three. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the ruling of the trial court.

         Facts and Procedural History

         {¶2} On December 6, 2016, Huddleston was indicted by the Logan County Grand Jury on three charges, Aggravated Robbery, Aggravated Burglary and Murder. However, a superseding indictment was filed in Logan County on April 11, 2017 charging Huddleston with: Count One, Aggravated Robbery, in violation of R.C. 2911.01(A)(1), a felony of the first degree; Count Two, Aggravated Burglary, in violation of R.C. 2911.11(A)(1), a felony of the first degree; Count Three, Murder, in violation of R.C. 2903.02(B), an unclassified felony; Count Four, Having Weapons While Under Disability, in violation of 2923.13(A)(3), a felony of the fourth degree; and Count Five, Tampering with Evidence, in violation of R.C. 2921.12(A)(1), a felony of the third degree. Firearm Specifications, in violation of R.C. 2941.145, were also contained in Counts One, Two and Three. The charges stem from the November 24, 2016 burglary, robbery and murder of Jeffrey Brentlinger ("Brentlinger") in Logan County, Ohio. Huddleston pled not guilty to all charges.

         {¶3} On July 25, 2017 the case proceeded to a three-day jury trial. At trial the State called sixteen (16) witnesses. After the State rested its case in chief, Huddleston made a Crim.R. 29 motion to the trial court arguing that all charges against him should be dismissed due to the State's failure to prove its case. The trial court granted the motion as to count five only. Thereafter, Huddleston did not present a defense.

         {¶4} Ultimately, the jury found Huddleston guilty of Aggravated Robbery, Aggravated Burglary, Murder, Having Weapons While Under Disability and the firearm specification. However, the trial court merged the aggravated robbery and aggravated burglary convictions (counts one and two) into the murder conviction (count three) and sentenced Huddleston to 15 years to life on the murder conviction, consecutive to a three-year sentence on the weapons charge and to a three-year sentence on the gun specification, for a total sentence of 21 years to life. (Doc. 155). It is from this judgment that Huddleston appeals, asserting the following assignments of error for our review.

ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NO. I
Mr. Huddleston's trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel, in violation of his constitutional rights. Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments, United States Constitution; Article I, Sections 10 and 16, Ohio Constitution; Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984). (Tr. 385, 394, 401, 410-411, 416, 448, 450, 452-453, 460, 463, 464, 524; State's Ex. 13.)
ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NO. II
The trial court erred in allowing irrelevant, prejudicial evidence, disregarding State v. Creech, and issuing an erroneous, confusing jury instruction. Fifth Amendment, United States Constitution; Article I, Sections 10 and 16, Ohio Constitution; Evid.R. 401 and 402; State v. Creech, Slip Op. 2016-Ohio-8440. (Tr. 385, 394, 401, 410-411, 416, 448, 450, 452-453, 460, 463, 464, 524; State's Ex. 13.)

         First Assignment of Error

         {¶5} In his first assignment of error, Huddleston claims that his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel: for failing to seek a stipulation to his prior conviction as to the weapons disability charge; for failing to seek redaction of irrelevant, prejudicial portions of his recorded statements; and for failing to object to incorrect, confusing jury instructions.

         Standard of Review

         {¶6} To establish a claim for ineffective assistance of counsel, a defendant must show that counsel's performance was deficient and that counsel's deficient performance prejudiced him. State v. Phillips, 3d Dist. Allen No. 1-15-43, 2016-Ohio-3105, 2016 WL 2957049, ¶ 11, (emphasis added), citing State v. Jackson, 107 Ohio St.3d 53, 2005-Ohio-5981, 836 N.E.2d 1173, ¶ 133, citing, Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984). The failure to make either showing defeats a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. State v. Bradley, 42 Ohio St.3d 136, 143, 538 N.E.2d 373 (1989), quoting Strickland at 697, 104 S.Ct. 2052 ("[T]here is no reason for a court deciding an ineffective assistance claim to approach the inquiry in the same order or even to address both components of the inquiry if the defendant makes an insufficient showing on one.").

         Analysis

         Stipulation of Prior Conviction

         {¶7} Here, Huddleston argues that he was denied effective assistance of counsel because his trial counsel should have stipulated to his prior conviction. Specifically, Huddleston claims that because his trial counsel failed to offer a stipulation to his prior conviction that placed him under a legal disability, the jury learned of his disability during trial which thereby resulted in the ineffective assistance of counsel. We disagree.

         {¶8} In our review of the record, we find the only reference to Huddleston's prior conviction (that placed him under a legal disability) occurred during the testimony of Det. Brugler of the Logan County Sheriffs Department. During that testimony, Det. Brugler identified a 2012 judgment entry from the Auglaize County Common Pleas Court (purportedly) convicting Huddleston of a crime that prohibited him from possessing a firearm. Det. Brugler read from the entry in open court and testified that Huddleston's date of birth and the last four digits of his (Huddleston's) social security number matched those of the defendant on the judgment entry. (Tr. 419-420). However, on cross examination, Huddleston's trial counsel attempted to raise doubt that Huddleston was the person convicted in Auglaize County because Det. Brugler was not personally present in the Auglaize County courtroom during that case. Further, during cross examination of Det. Brugler, trial counsel pointed out that a full social security number was missing from the entry.

         {¶9} Even though Huddleston was found guilty on the Having Weapons While Under Disability charge, we find the decision not to stipulate (to the prior conviction) was a strategic trial tactic of counsel that attempted to place doubt in the jury's mind as to whether Huddleston was ever convicted in Auglaize County of a crime that placed him under a disability. As such, strategic trial decisions, even if unsuccessful, generally do not constitute ineffective assistance of counsel. See State v. Carter, 72 Ohio St.3d 545, 558, 651 N.E.2d 965 (1995).

         {¶10} Because we give deference to strategic trial tactics of counsel, we find nothing in the record supporting Huddleston's argument that his trial counsel's performance was deficient due to the failure to stipulate to this prior conviction. Thus, this first portion of Huddleston's argument is without merit.

         Statements of Defendant

         {¶11} Huddleston next argues that he received ineffective assistance of counsel because his trial counsel failed to seek the redaction of "irrelevant statements" made by Huddleston during an interview with Det. Brugler and made during his recorded telephone conversations from the county jail. Relative to this argument, Huddleston directs us to fifteen (15) instances in the trial transcript wherein he asserts that trial counsel's failure to pursue the redaction of various statements amounted to ineffective assistance of counsel.

         {¶12} We note that the majority of Huddleston's statements were made during his telephone conversations with visitors which occurred while he was incarcerated in the Logan County Jail awaiting trial. Only 5 of the complained-of statements were made to Det. Brugler during Huddleston's interview which we will discuss first.

         Statements to Det. Brugler

         {¶13} Huddleston argues that the below statements (from States Exhibit 12) made to Det. Brugler should not have been played to the jury. The statements, ...


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