There is an interesting case out of Ohio where the state Supreme Court has ruled that Lake County Common Pleas Court Judge Eugene Lucci erred when he gave Manson Bryant, 35, an added six years after Bryant called him “racist as f**k.” The outburst followed his initial sentencing for robbery, kidnapping, and weapons charges relating to an armed burglary.
Sentenced in March 2019, Bryant was respectful and remorseful before the court. He told Judge Lucci “I made a lifetime of bad decisions. And those bad decisions has caused pain to a lot of people in my family. For that, I am truly sorry.” He added that Lucci and the court staff had done a great job and that
“I have never gone through trial before. I have a newfound respect for the efforts of the attorneys, judges, jurors, and goal in living as an, as giving an accused person a opportunity to have a case heard. That’s all anyone can ask. I am thankful for the opportunity afforded by the court, by the day in court, and I respect the decision that the juries has made.”
He pleaded with Lucci that he could “still make something” out of his life and that “I don’t want to die in prison, sir. I’m not a bad person, sir. I do have a drug problem. I’ve been in front of you multiple times. I respect you. And I respect your decision that you make today.”
The statement did not appear to sway Lucci, however, who hit Bryant with a heavy 22 year sentence despite his co-defendant receiving just 12 years.
That is when things went from bad to worse.
Here is the exchange that followed:
BRYANT: Fuck your courtroom, you racist ass bitch. Fuck your courtroom, man. You racist as fuck. You racist as fuck. Twenty-two fucking years. Racist ass bitch. (CONTINUED OUTBURST BY DEFENDANT, SWEARING, YELLING, MUCH UNINTELLIGIBLE).
COURT: Remember when—
BRYANT: You ain’t shit.
COURT: Remember when I said that you had some remorse?
BRYANT: You ain’t shit. You never gave me probation.
COURT: Wait a minute.
BRYANT: You never gave me a chance.
COURT: When I said that you had a certain amount of remorse, I was mistaken. (DEFENDANT CONTINUES YELLING). The Court determines—
BRYANT: Fuck you.
COURT: The Court determines that maximum imprisonment is needed, so it’s eleven years on Count 1 and eleven years on Count 3.
BRYANT: Fuck that courtroom. You racist bitch. You ain’t shit. (MALE VOICE SAYING “MANSON” REPEATEDLY). Let me out the courtroom, man. (MORE SHOUTING AND SWEARING).
COURT: So, it’s twenty-eight years with credit for two hundred and thirty-one days. Hold on. (DEFENDANT STILL SHOUTING). Does counsel waive your client’s presence for the remainder of the advisements I have to give?
DEFENSE COUNSEL: Yes, Your Honor.
COURT: Alright. You can take him. The Court determines that [Bryant] has shown no remorse whatsoever. I was giving him remorse, a certain amount of remorse in mitigation of the sentence. [Bryant] has shown me that he has no remorse whatsoever, and therefore the Court determines that maximum imprisonment is needed.
Lucci tacked on six years for a total of 28 years. That sentence was upheld by an appellate court but the Ohio Supreme Court reversed in a 4-3 opinion. The court found that under Ohio law disrespect for the Court is not grounds for an enhancement. While Lucci characterized the comments as showing a lack of remorse, the court found it was an attack on the court itself.
Justice Melody Stewart found that “there is no disputing the fact that Bryant’s words and statements were directed solely at the trial-court judge who had just sentenced Bryant to 22 years in prison after having sentenced his codefendant to 12 years in prison for the same criminal acts.”
She added that “If a defendant’s outburst or other courtroom misbehavior causes a significant disruption that obstructs the administration of justice, that behavior may be punishable as contempt of court. The behavior, however, may not result in an increased sentence for the underlying crime.”
Justice Sharon Kennedy disagreed and wrote that “The trial court is permitted to consider that in-court outburst in sentencing: here, the in-court outburst directly related to whether appellant, Manson Bryant, had displayed genuine remorse for committing various crimes or whether he was just pretending to have remorse with the hope of receiving a more lenient sentence. And under this court’s [precedent], neither this court nor the court of appeals has the authority to review Bryant’s increased sentence.”
Without getting into the confines of Ohio law, the additional time in my view was excessive. It was added to an already hefty sentence. This does seem to me to be an act of contempt and could be punished on that ground.
Notably, Bryant won this case pro se, or representing himself. It is a considerable win for a self-represented individual.
Here is the decision: Ohio v. Bryant