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Date: 05-03-2021

Case Style:


Case Number: C-200080

Judge: Pierre H. Bergeron


Plaintiff's Attorney: Andrew Garth, City Solicitor, William T. Horsley, Chief Prosecuting Attorney, and
Meagan D. Woodall, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney

Defendant's Attorney:

Criminal Defense Lawyer Directory


Cincinnati, Ohio - Criminal defense attorney represented Lionell Roberts with a domestic violence charge

{¶1} The state appeals from the dismissal of its domestic violence charge
against defendant-appellee Lionell Roberts. The trial court dismissed this case after
the state’s key witness stormed out of the courtroom before cross-examination, and
the state contends that the court should have rendered a verdict anyway. We see two
problems with this argument: first, the state never broached this point below, and
second, the Confrontation Clause prevented the trial court from considering the
witness’s testimony (and the state admittedly had no other evidence of guilt). We
accordingly affirm the court’s judgment and overrule the state’s assignment of error.
{¶2} This domestic violence charge stems from threats that Mr. Roberts
allegedly made to a female friend while they celebrated his birthday together at his
house. As the festivities wore on, Mr. Roberts began using disrespectful language
towards her, and she concluded that it was time to leave. In response, Mr. Roberts
allegedly grabbed a long butcher knife, brandishing it in her direction, admonishing:
“you ain’t going nowhere.” The state charged Mr. Roberts with domestic violence
under R.C. 2919.25(C), arising out of this incident.
{¶3} At the bench trial, the friend testified on direct examination but grew
frustrated by the court’s repeated interruptions, asking her to slow down so that her
testimony could be better understood. Matters continued to escalate between her
and the court, resulting in the witness announcing that she didn’t want to talk
anymore, and prompting the court to conclude that she should leave. She then
departed the courtroom, leaving the state in a bind since it admitted that it could not
proceed without its witness. Under those circumstances, the trial court dismissed
the case, and this appeal follows. OHIO FIRST DISTRICT COURT OF APPEALS
{¶4} In its sole assignment of error, the state argues that the trial court
erred by dismissing the case instead of deciding it on the merits—either guilty or not
guilty. The state’s problem here is twofold. First, since it failed to object below, it is
limited to plain error review. State v. Burgett, 2019-Ohio-5348, 139 N.E.3d 940, ¶
30 (1st Dist.) (“For this court to reverse on plain error, we must find that (1) there
was an error, (2) the error was plain, i.e., an obvious defect in the trial court
proceedings, and (3) the error affected substantial rights, i.e., it affected the outcome
of the trial.”).
{¶5} And even if the state could establish error, the Confrontation Clause
looms as a barrier it cannot circumvent. The Sixth Amendment to the United States
Constitution guarantees an accused the right “to be confronted with the witnesses
against him.” And “ ‘ “the main and essential purpose of confrontation is to secure
for the opponent the opportunity of cross-examination.” ’ ” State v. Cooley, 1st Dist.
Hamilton No. C-930644, 1994 WL 570254, *5 (Oct. 19, 1994), quoting Davis v.
Alaska, 415 U.S. 308, 315–16, 94 S.Ct. 1105, 39 L.Ed.2d 347 (1974), quoting 5 J.
Wigmore, Evidence, Section 1395, at 123 (3d Ed.1940). Thus, unless the state could
present other evidence to make its case, the trial court lacked any admissible
evidence upon which it could convict. See, e.g., State v. Smith, 2019-Ohio-3257, 141
N.E.3d 590, ¶ 10 (1st Dist.) (“Therefore, the Confrontation Clause prohibits
‘testimonial statements of a witness who did not appear at trial unless he was
unavailable to testify, and the defendant had had a prior opportunity for crossexamination.’ ”), quoting Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 53–54, 124 S.Ct.
1354, 158 L.Ed.2d 177 (2004), paragraph (a) of the syllabus; United States v. Sensi,
879 F.2d 888, 899 (D.C.Cir.1989) (acknowledging that had a witness testified against OHIO FIRST DISTRICT COURT OF APPEALS
the defendant “and then refused to be cross-examined, [the defendant’s] right of
confrontation would require that the witness’ testimony be stricken.”); State v.
Woods, 48 Ohio App.3d 1, 5, 548 N.E.2d 954 (1st Dist.1988) (holding that it was
error to admit grand jury testimony of uncooperative witness because it violated
defendant’s right to confrontation). Notably, the state fails to reconcile its argument
with the Confrontation Clause.

Outcome: As a result, the trial court did not commit plain error in dismissing the state’s
case against Mr. Roberts. Even if the court chose the wrong procedural path, it
reached the right destination. We accordingly overrule the state’s assignment of
error and affirm the judgment below.

Judgment affirmed.

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