NEWS (7/21/21) — Ohio: The Ohio Supreme Court has vacated the conviction and death sentence for George Brinkman, finding that he had not been advised of critical constitutional rights when he entered a guilty plea in his 2018 capital trial and that his plea was therefore invalid. The justices vacated Brinkman’s plea and returned his case to the Cuyahoga County court to conduct a new trial.

On November 5, 2018, Brinkman indicated to the court that he intended to plead guilty to capital murder and waive his right to a jury at both the trial and sentencing phases of his death penalty trial. However, while questioning Brinkman to determine whether his guilty plea was knowing, voluntary, and intelligent, the trial court failed to inform him that, in pleading guilty, he would be waiving his constitutional rights to confront witnesses against him and to require the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt his guilt of every element of each charged offense. After this defective waiver colloquy, Brinkman pleaded guilty and the court accepted his plea. Four days later — after the state had presented evidence of Brinkman’s guilt — the court conducted a second waiver colloquy at which it fully advised Brinkman of his rights but did not ask him whether he still wished to plead guilty.

“It is clear from the record that the trial court did not advise Brinkman at the time that he entered his plea that by pleading guilty he was waiving his rights to confront the witnesses against him and to have the state prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” the court wrote. “Consequently, Brinkman did not have a ‘full understanding’ that by pleading guilty, he would waive those two constitutional rights.”

The justices sharply criticized the trial court and counsel for both parties for “fail[ing] to adhere to the level of diligence expected in, and essential to, our criminal justice system. The trial court failed to strictly comply with the requirements for a valid plea colloquy” under Ohio procedural law, the court wrote, “and neither the prosecutor nor defense counsel brought the omitted constitutional rights to the court’s attention at the time of the initial plea colloquy. … This inattention,” the justices said, “is impermissible, especially in a case such as this in which a death sentence is on the line.”