Oral Argument Preview. Must A Trial Court Apply the Least Severe Sanction to State Discovery Violations? State v. Demetrius Darmond.

Update: On March 21, 2013, the Supreme Court handed down a merit decision in this case.  Read the analysis here.

Read the analsyis of the oral argument in this case here.

On January 9, 2013, the Supreme Court of Ohio will hear oral argument in the case of State of Ohio v. Demetrius Darmond, 2012-0081/2012-0195. The case was accepted both on conflict certification and as a discretionary appeal. The cases were consolidated.

Key Precedent

In Lakewood v. Papadelis, 32 Ohio St.3d 1, 511 N.E.2d 1138 (1987), a defendant violated Crim. R. 16 discovery requirements  by failing to provide a witness list.  As a sanction, the trial court excluded all the defense witnesses.  The Ohio Supreme Court held this sanction was a denial of the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to present a defense. The Court held that a trial court must inquire into the circumstances of the discovery violation and must impose the least severe sanction consistent with the purpose of the rules of discovery.

Certified Question

The certified question is, “does the holding in Lakewood v. Papadelis apply equally to instances where the state has committed a discovery violation?” The issue in the discretionary appeal is the same.

Conflict Cases

State v. Engle, 2006-Ohio-1884 (3rd dist.)

The Third District Court of Appeals applied Lakewood to state discovery violations and held that the trial court was required to investigate the circumstances of the violation and impose the least severe sanction consistent with the violation.

State v. Siemer, 2007-Ohio-4600 (1st dist.)

The First District Court of Appeals agreed that Lakewood applied to state discovery violations, and reversed a trial court’s order granting a defendant’s motion to dismiss due to a discovery violation. As in Darmond, the case at bar, neither party knew about the additional evidence.

Background

Demetrius Darmond and co-defendant Iris Oliver were indicted and charged with a number of drug offenses, stemming from the controlled delivery of a FedEx package containing marijuana sent to Oliver’s home address in Cleveland, Ohio, but not to her  name. Darmond later picked the package up and was arrested.

In March 2010, Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigations Agent Patricia Stipek intercepted seven packages containing marijuana.  Two packages were addressed to Oliver’s residence under different names.  The other five  packages were addressed to two locations in Cleveland and three in Lorain County.  All the packages were packed the same way, and all were believed to have originated from Tempe or Phoenix, Arizona.  The search warrants obtained by Agent Stipek only referenced the packages delivered to Oliver’s address.

Agent Stipek made separate reports for each package.  The reports did not reference any of the other similarly packed intercepted shipments.  Only the reports on the two packages sent to Oliver’s address referenced one another.  Since the reports on the packages delivered to Oliver’s address did not mention any packages other than those delivered to Oliver’s address, neither the State nor Darmond was aware of the other five packages.  Information on those other five similar packages was not turned over to Darmond during discovery.

At a bench trial, the State’s first witness, Agent Stipek, mentioned the five other packages during her testimony. Neither side knew about this before. Darmond argued that the five other similarly packaged shipments of marijuana were exculpatory evidence and should have been turned over by the State.  Darmond moved to dismiss the charges with prejudice since the discovery violations arose after jeopardy had attached.  The judge held a hearing and granted Darmond’s motion to dismiss with prejudice (prohibiting the state from refiling charges.)

In ruling, the trial judge found that the State should have supplied “all the other information,” i.e. the reports, the addresses, the names, the investigation, whether charges were filed, whether indictments were returned; and whether some other person owned up to this scheme, which could have exonerated the defendants in this case.

The Court of Appeals Decision

The Eighth District Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the state’s case with prejudice.  The Eighth District held that Lakewood does not require a trial court to apply the “least severe sanction” when it is the state that commits a discovery violation.

The State’s Argument

The State argues that the responsibility to comply with discovery rules in Crim. R. 16 is meant to provide equality and fairness in the judicial system.  When either party violates its Crim. R. 16 responsibilities, the trial court should consider the circumstances of the violation and apply the least severe sanction that appropriately addresses the noncompliance.  While Crim. R. 16 provides broad discretion to trial courts in assessing sanctions, precedent supports imposition of the least severe sanction consistent with the violation.

The State argues that the vast majority of courts in Ohio apply the “least severe sanction” language from Lakewood to state discovery violations.  The Eighth District’s decision in Darmond is in direct conflict with decisions from the First and Third Districts, which both found that Lakewood should also apply to state violations.

In the instant case, the discovery violation was neither willful nor material.  Despite the minimal importance of the additional packages, the trial court imposed the most severe sanction available without consideration of other alternatives and proper investigation of the circumstances of the State’s discovery violation.

Darmond’s Argument

Darmond argues that a trial court must inquire into the circumstances surrounding a state’s violation of discovery rules but need not apply the least severe sanction when the state violates rules of discovery.  Under the State’s interpretation, a court could never sanction the state by dismissing charges because there will also be a less severe sanction available.  The Lakewood requirement that the sanction be the least severe was imposed in the context of a criminal defendant’s violation.  A defendant’s right to present a defense required the least severe sanction.  The sanction imposed on the State does not implicate a constitutional right.  Further, the decisions of the First and Third Districts are not in conflict with the current case because there the trial courts failed to inquire adequately into the circumstances of the State’s discovery violation.  In the present case, the Eighth District recognized the requirement to inquire into the circumstances and found that the trial court had fulfilled this requirement.

Darmond argues that a trial court has broad discretion to impose discovery sanctions and may only be overturned if the sanction was unreasonable, unconscionable or arbitrary.  The trial court ruling in the present case does not meet that standard.  The trial court took appropriate steps to investigate the circumstances of the State’s violation by allowing the parties to argue their positions on the record and in chambers.

The State’s Proposed Proposition of Law

A trial court is required to impose the least severe sanction that is consistent with the purpose of the rules of discovery after an inquiry into the circumstances producing an alleged violation of Crim. R. 16.

Darmond’s Proposed Counter Proposition of Law

The holding in Lakewood “. . . that a trial court must inquire into circumstance surrounding a discovery rule violation and, when deciding whether to impose a sanction, must impose the least severe sanction that is consistent with the purpose of the rules of discovery” does not apply equally to instances where the state has committed a discovery violation because sanctions against the state for a discovery violation do not implicate an individual’s constitutional guarantees as it did in Lakewood or other instances where a criminal defendant commits a discovery violation.

Amicus Position in Support of the State

An amicus brief was filed by the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association (“OPAA”) in support of the State’s contention that Lakewood applies to state discovery violations.  OPAA is a private non-profit membership organization founded for the benefit of the elected county prosecutors.

The amicus brief urges the Court to adopt the State’s proposition of law.  OPAA argues that to apply Lakewood equally is a good general-purpose, easy-to-apply rule.  Noting in Lakewood suggests it should be limited to defense discovery violations.  Further, equal application would ensure a more efficient application of discovery rules and predictability in sanctions and outcomes.  Lastly, failing to apply Lakewood results in unfairness and deprives the state of its right to fair trial.

Student Contributor: Katlin Rust

This entry was posted in Ohio Supreme Court Watch, Oral Argument Preview, Student Contributors and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.