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Patrick O'Hearn

Other No-Crime California Exonerations
On October 19, 2018, police in San Rafael, California, responded to a 911 call that a man named Patrick O’Hearn was acting erratically and threatening people at an apartment complex.

The police officers talked to the two women, known in court records as Rachel and Sheryl, who made the complaint. Rachel told the police that O’Hearn confronted them in a stairwell while Rachel was helping Sheryl move some items from her apartment. Rachel said he yelled obscenities and threatened to kill them. Rachel said that later, when the women were taking Sheryl’s dog for a walk, O’Hearn shouted: “I’m going to f---ing kill you guys,” and “I’m going to kick your ass.” Rachel and Sheryl each told the police that they were afraid of O’Hearn.

The officers spoke with O’Hearn, who was 55 years old and familiar to police because of earlier complaints about his behavior. He denied any altercation took place. The police report said he rambled in his speech that everyone was lying. The police considered whether he was eligible for mental commitment, but arrested him for making criminal threats and for parole violation. (Available records don’t detail that earlier conviction.)

The Marin County District Attorney charged O’Hearn with making criminal threats, noting that O’Hearn had four previous felony convictions that would likely make him ineligible for probation. The threats charge was considered a “strike” under California’s “Three Strikes” sentencing guidelines.

O’Hearn was initially represented by the Marin County Public Defender, but the office withdrew because of a conflict, and Robert Casper was appointed to handle O’Hearn’s case. After the arraignment, O’Hearn replaced Casper. He contracted with a company called the Calabria Law Group, which had solicited him after the arrest, and they directed him to an attorney named Manton Selby.

On December 3, 2018, O’Hearn pled guilty to making criminal threats. Selby then withdrew from the case, citing a contractual issue with Calabria, and the company assigned another attorney, Elizabeth Berg, to represent O’Hearn at his sentencing, which took place on January 29, 2019.

O’Hearn received three years of probation. He was ordered to stay away from the victims and the apartment complex, to submit to drug and alcohol testing, and to participate in “treatment, therapy, and counseling as directed by probation.” The pre-sentencing report, in a section on mitigating factors, noted that O’Hearn “has been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and [was] not taking his medication at the time of the instant offense.”

On February 21, 2019, the public defender’s office requested that the case be placed back on the calendar because there might be grounds for O’Hearn to withdraw his plea.

The office again assigned Casper to represent O’Hearn, and the court ordered Casper to investigate whether grounds existed. Casper said he studied the transcripts of the pre-trial hearings and found that no such grounds existed. He told the court that O’Hearn appeared to understand the nature of the plea. “It appears that there was some kind of disposition where several charges, as well as a couple [of] probation violations, were dismissed in contemplation of the deal. So, in my, you know, view, I don’t think there’s a lawful basis to withdraw the plea on that basis that is, in terms of duress. And there was nothing that was related to me that caused me to change my mind other than what appears to be, as we see sometimes, buyer’s remorse.”

Casper asked to be relieved from the case, and O’Hearn retained Michael Coffino to prepare a motion to withdraw his plea.

In the motion, Coffino said Selby had provided ineffective assistance of counsel. The motion said Selby “barely met” with O’Hearn, failed to attend the sentencing hearing, and lost the case file. The motion said Selby didn’t discuss alternatives to O’Hearn pleading guilty as charged, particularly how the new “strike” could impact his sentencing.

The motion also said that Selby failed to investigate O’Hearn’s long history of schizophrenia and other mental-health problems, which had led to two stays at the Atascadero and Napa state hospitals. O’Hearn had told Selby about his condition, but Selby didn’t connect O’Hearn’s mental health to the charged crime, which required intent and therefore the competency to form intent.

In addition, the motion said that one of the victims, Sheryl, had a criminal record that included arrests for providing false information to a peace officer. The district attorney’s office had given Selby this information, which could have been used as impeachment evidence, but Selby had no recollection of it. Selby, the motion said, “did not perform as a reasonably competent attorney at the guilty plea stage, in investigating the case, in negotiating a plea bargain, or in presenting mitigation evidence.”

At a hearing on the motion to withdraw, Selby said that he tried to ascertain O’Hearn’s mental competency when they met in person to discuss the case, and he determined that O’Hearn was competent to go to trial. But he acknowledged not making any effort to investigate O’Hearn’s medical records. Selby also said that while he might have met with O’Hearn only once, they spoke several times over the telephone before O’Hearn entered his plea.

The trial court denied O’Hearn’s motion to withdraw his plea. It said that while Selby’s representation was not ideal, “The court’s not in a position here, hearing what I heard, to conclude as a matter of law, that those fell below any particular standard of care.”

O’Hearn appealed. On November 9, 2020, California’s First District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court and granted O’Hearn’s motion to withdraw his plea.

The appellate court said Selby never provided a reason for not investigating O’Hearn’s mental health and whether that offered the basis for a defense. “By failing to seek a continuance or otherwise prevent O’Hearn from entering his guilty plea before Selby understood whether the case was defensible, and failing to negotiate the disposition with the prosecution from an informed position, which investigation would have enabled him to do, Selby rendered potential mental state defenses meaningless,” the court said.

The appellate court also said that Selby failed to investigate O’Hearn’s long history of yelling at his neighbors and making threats without ever following through. “Had he investigated,” the court wrote, “Selby would have recognized the potential for arguing that O’Hearn’s victims were familiar with his frequent unconventional behavior and aware it had never resulted in violence, which would have eliminated or at least diminished their fear for their own safety.”

In a postscript of its ruling, the appellate court decried the criminalization of mental-health problems. It noted that many of O’Hearn’s past probation violations were a result of his psychosis and delusional behavior, and that if he hadn’t withdrawn his plea, it was likely that O’Hearn would have ended up in a state prison for a similar probation violation.

“Selby was not the only person who showed little or no interest in O’Hearn’s apparent mental disorders,” the court wrote. “So too did the district attorney, the sentencing judge, Casper, the attorney appointed by the court to investigate whether O’Hearn had viable grounds to move to withdraw his plea, even though the disorders were suggested by the nature of O’Hearn’s unusual criminal history and described by the probation department in the presentence report.”

After the appellate court’s ruling, O’Hearn withdrew his plea on January 26, 2021. The charge was dismissed on April 9, 2021.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 11/8/2021
Last Updated: 11/8/2021
Most Serious Crime:Other Violent Felony
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2018
Age at the date of reported crime:55
Contributing Factors:Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No