Is there really absolute prosecutorial discretion when it comes to plea deals with those accused of criminal activity? Perhaps not.
On March 17, 2020, the Supreme Court of Ohio suspended City of Sylvania Assistant Prosecutor Anthony Spinazze for six months for his misstatements made to the Municipal Court Judge involving his reduction of an OVI charge to having physical control over a vehicle while under the influence, a first-degree misdemeanor.
Jeremiah Johnson was arrested for OVI and arraigned in the Sylvania Municipal Court. Spinazze met with Johnson’s attorney and the deputy sheriff. After watching the body cam of the arrest, Spinazze agreed to reduce the charges but the deputy sheriff objected.
The judge requested that Spinazze appear in court to explain the reason for the recommendation. Spinazze indicated that there was a question as to the police officer’s observation and the city had some concerns about whether Johnson was actually in the car. He also indicated the arresting officer agreed to the reduced charge. The court accepted the plea.
Surprised by the reduced charge given Johnson’s two prior OVIs, Chief Prosecutor Christy Cole asked Spinazze whether the arresting officer agreed, and Spinazze admitted that he had not. However, he failed to advise Cole of his misstatements to the Court. After listening to the Court’s audio recording of the hearing, Cole expressed her concern to Spinazze that he had misled the court. In response, Spinazze falsely claimed he had mistakenly relied upon defense counsel’s account of the incident without reviewing the file. Cole later discovered that truth after meeting with the deputy sheriff.
The court vacated Johnson’s plea agreement, requested appointment of a special prosecutor, Johnson’s counsel withdrew and Johnson was appointed new counsel and the judge found him guilty of OVI.
In disciplinary proceedings, Spinazze was found to have violated Prof.Cond.R. 3.3 (making a false statement to a tribunal); Prof.Cond.R. 8.4(c) (conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation), and Prof.Cond.R. 8.4(d) (conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice) and received an actual six month suspension. (2002-Ohio-957).