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State v. Smith

Court of Appeals of Ohio, First District, Hamilton

December 27, 2019

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
MAURICE SMITH, Defendant-Appellant. STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
MAURICE SMITH, Defendant-Appellant.

          Criminal Appeals From: Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas TRIAL NO. B-1506673

         Judgments Appealed From Are: Affirmed

          Joseph T. Deters, Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney, and Alex Scott Havlin, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for Plaintiff-Appellee,

          Maurice Smith, pro se.

          OPINION

          BERGERON, PRESIDING JUDGE.

         {¶1} This pair of appeals traces back to defendant-appellant Maurice Smith's 2016 convictions, where a jury found him guilty of burglary, various drug-related offenses, and tampering with evidence. On direct appeal, we affirmed his convictions but remanded for resentencing to address an allied offenses issue. See State v. Smith, 2017-Ohio-8558, 99 N.E.3d 1230 (1st Dist.). During the course of our opinion, we specifically rejected his argument that the trial court erred in failing to address his pro se motions (because counsel represented him). In the wake of our decision, Mr. Smith filed three motions relevant to this appeal, a petition for postconviction relief (with a request for an evidentiary hearing), a motion for leave to file a motion for a new trial, and a motion for a new trial, largely raising issues that we already decided in the direct appeal and without offering any material evidence beyond that before the court at the time of trial. The trial court denied relief, and we affirm its judgments for the reasons explained below.

         I.

         {¶2} On direct appeal, Mr. Smith asserted two challenges relevant to the appeals at hand: first, that the trial court erred by neglecting to rule on his pro se motions, and second, that his counsel was ineffective by refusing to adopt the pro se motions. Smith at ¶ 30, 54. During the trial court proceedings, despite being represented by counsel at all times, Mr. Smith lobbed in numerous pro se motions. Id. at ¶ 30. The court declined to rule on these motions because Mr. Smith's counsel refused to adopt them, maintaining that they lacked merit. Id. at ¶ 8-11. On appeal, we affirmed the trial court's decision, reasoning that although a defendant indeed enjoys a right to counsel as well as a right to proceed pro se, a defendant retains no right to "hybrid representation" (i.e., acting as his own lawyer while simultaneously being represented by counsel). Id. at ¶ 31. The trial court therefore did not run afoul of any constitutional obligations by declining to address his pro se motions under these circumstances. Id. We likewise rejected Mr. Smith's ineffective assistance of counsel claim, finding that counsel's refusal to adopt pro se motions amounted to little more than trial strategy. Id. at 57.

         {¶3} In his petition for postconviction relief, Mr. Smith attacked the effectiveness of his counsel for, among other things, failing to challenge the credibility of witnesses and neglecting to question the chain of custody concerning pieces of the state's evidence. But most of what he attached to his filing was already in the record during the initial trial proceedings. A few months after this initial motion, Mr. Smith sought to amend his petition, asserting an additional due process claim based upon the court subjecting him to so-called "hybrid representation." Rather than address Mr. Smith's motion to amend, the trial court instead ruled solely on his initial petition for postconviction relief, denying his request based upon res judicata grounds and his failure to muster probative evidence outside of the existing record to support his arguments.

         {¶4} Similarly, in his motion for leave to file a motion for a new trial (and his motion for a new trial filed a few days later), Mr. Smith largely parroted these claims, maintaining his counsel exposed him to "hybrid legal representation" and failed to inform him of the filing deadline for a motion for a new trial. But these motions met the same fate as his petition, as the trial court denied them both.

         {¶5} Mr. Smith now appeals pro se, challenging both the trial court's order denying his petition for postconviction relief and his motion for leave to file a motion for a new trial (as well as his motion for a new trial). For simplicity's sake, we address the two appeals together, ultimately affirming both of the trial court's orders.

         II.

         {¶6} Turning first to his petition for postconviction relief, Mr. Smith asserts five assignments of error challenging the court's denial of his petition without an evidentiary hearing, all of which fall into one of two categories-ineffective assistance of counsel or a denial of due process. Because a trial court retains discretion as to whether a defendant should receive an evidentiary hearing before the denial of his petition, we review Mr. Smith's challenges under an abuse of discretion standard. See State v. Gondor, 112 Ohio St.3d 377, 2006-Ohio-6679, 860 N.E.2d 77, ¶ 52 ("We established in Calhoun that a court reviewing the trial court's decision in regard to its gatekeeping function should apply an abuse-of-discretion standard.").

         {¶7} R.C. 2953.21 frames our review of a postconviction petition. See State v. Pickens,2016-Ohio-5257, 60 N.E.3d 20, ¶ 7 (1st Dist.) ("R.C. 2953.21 et seq. governs the proceedings on a postconviction petition."). As Mr. Smith properly notes, R.C. 2953.21(A) entitles a defendant to postconviction relief if the petition is timely and the court finds "there was such a denial or infringement of the rights of the [petitioner] as to render the judgment void or voidable under the Ohio Constitution or the United States Constitution." State v. Perry, 10 Ohio St.2d 175, 226 N.E.2d 104 (1967), paragraph four of the syllabus; see R.C. 2953.21(A)(1)(a). While no one disputes the timeliness of his filing, Mr. Smith overlooks the fact that R.C. 2953.21 does not automatically entitle a defendant to a hearing on his petition. See State v. Calhoun, 86 Ohio St.3d 279, 282, 714 N.E.2d 905 (1999) ("According to the postconviction relief statute, a criminal defendant seeking to challenge his conviction through a petition for postconviction relief is not automatically entitled to a hearing."); RC. 2953.21(D). In fact, before granting a hearing the court must consider whether the defendant sets forth "sufficient operative facts to ...


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