It makes the roads safer, except when it makes the roads more dangerous. It’s a fair consequence for a person convicted of DUI/OVI, except when it’s unfair. The ignition interlock device has been used increasingly by Ohio and most other states to prevent drunk driving. As illustrated by a recent article in The New York Times, the device intended to encourage safe roads and fair punishment has actually caused accidents and unjust punishments. What should Ohio do?
Raymond Wells walked out of court thinking he knew his sentence and was probably surprised when he later learned it included more than what the judge told him in the courtroom. There is a common saying in the law that “the court speaks through its entries”. What happens if the judge says one thing in open court but another in the sentence entry? A recent case from the Sixth District Court of Appeals gives us an answer.
The consequences of an OVI/DUI conviction can go well beyond the fines, jail time, and license suspensions imposed by a Judge. Collateral effects like higher insurance premiums and lost employment opportunities can follow someone well after their case has been resolved in court. Some states, even notoriously tough-on-crime states like Texas, allow first-time OVI/DUI offenders to avoid the long term consequences of a conviction by completing a pretrial diversion program.
If you think about the consequences of getting a DUI (called OVI in Ohio), the first thing which comes to mind is probably the sentence from the court. There is good reason for that: the sentence includes a mandatory jail term, license suspension, and fine as well as possible yellow plates, ignition interlock, and probation. In addition to the sentence imposed by the judge, however, there are collateral consequences for DUI/OVI convictions. One of those consequences is skyrocketing auto insurance premiums.
When a trooper’s DUI charge is dismissed, it may appear the trooper is getting special treatment. In the case of N.C. trooper Dennis Tafoya, the DUI charge was dismissed because the evidence didn’t prove he committed a crime. Although he may have been very intoxicated while sitting in his car, the car was not running. In North Carolina, that is not an offense. In Ohio, the law is different.
After years of working as a first officer for a commercial airline, Andrea is finally about to become a captain. To celebrate, she goes to dinner with friends and has a couple drinks. On the way home, she forgets to signal a right turn, and an officer stops her. The officer smells alcohol and has Andrea perform field sobriety tests. The officer says he notices ‘clues’ on the tests and arrests Andrea for DUI (called OVI in Ohio). As the cuffs go on, all she can think about is what will happen to her pilot’s license and her career.
A few days ago, the state of Ohio began imposing increased penalties for DUI (known in Ohio as OVI). The increased penalties are part of House Bill 388, commonly known as “Annie’s Law”*. The legislation is not really one law but a revision of nearly 20 statutes and creation of one new one. Effective April 6, 2017, “Annie’s Law” provides for longer driver license suspensions, encourages increased use of ignition interlock devices, and results in more defendants being punished as ‘repeat offenders’.
In Ohio DUI / OVI cases, mandatory minimum penalties are increased based on prior OVI convictions. One issue faced by Ohio courts is whether a person’s OVI adjudication (‘conviction’) as a juvenile can be used to enhance a subsequent OVI sentence as an adult. The Ohio Supreme Court recently issued an opinion which settles the issue.
The case of State v. Hand did not involve an OVI, but the decision will apply to OVI convictions. Hand was convicted of Aggravated Burglary, Aggravated Robbery, Kidnapping and Felonious Assault. Those offenses are categorized as first degree felonies and second degree felonies. Ohio Revised Code section 2929.13(F)(6) says the judge must impose a mandatory prison term for first and second degree felonies if the defendant has a prior conviction for a first or second degree felony. Ohio Revised Code section 2901.08(A) says a juvenile adjudication for a criminal offense or traffic offense is a ‘conviction’ for purposes of determining the sentence in a later conviction. Relying on those two Ohio Revised Code sections, the judge imposed a mandatory prison term.
Hand appealed the judge’s sentence, and the case was ultimately heard by the Ohio Supreme Court. The Court noted the juvenile justice system is different than the adult criminal justice system. Juvenile case dispositions are intended to be “civil and rehabilitative”, while adult sentencing is “criminal and punitive”. The court also noted that, while juveniles are afforded most of the same Constitutional rights as adults, there is one right not required in juvenile court proceedings: trial by jury.
A judge in Columbus, Ohio found a man to be in violation of probation because the man was unable to urinate upon request. The judge was aware the defendant, Mr. Hand, had medical problems which caused urinary difficulties and was taking medication designed to increase his urination. Nevertheless, the judge concluded Mr. Hand’s inability to urinate constituted a “refusal” to submit to a urine test. Individuals placed on probation for DUI/OVI in Ohio do not have this kind of experience, ordinarily. But this was no ordinary case.
Ordinarily, probation (also called “community control” in Ohio) is imposed by a judge for two reasons. First, probation is imposed so somebody has the responsibility of monitoring the defendant’s compliance with court orders. That somebody is the probation officer. Second, probation is imposed to give the defendant incentive to comply with court orders. If a probationer does not comply with court orders, judges can impose more restrictive probation conditions, lengthen the duration of probation, and impose jail time.
Before a judge can sentence a person for violating probation, the judge must hold a hearing. At the hearing, the judge first determines if there is probable cause to believe the defendant violated probation. The judge then determines whether the defendant did, in fact, violate probation. If the judge concludes the defendant violated probation, the judge imposes a sentence: more restrictive conditions, additional probation time, and/or jail time.
In the case of Mr. Hand, the judge ordered pretty common probation conditions: Mr. Hand was ordered to complete a driver intervention program, complete any follow-up counseling recommended by that program, and complete 80 hours of community service. He was also required to submit to alcohol/drug screens and not refuse any tests (for alcohol/drugs).
Interpreting Ohio’s DUI/OVI sentencing law can be complicated. The sentencing statutes take up many pages in the Ohio Revised Code (O.R.C.), and appellate courts have issued many decisions interpreting those statutes. One issue which has led to confusion is how a court is supposed to sentence a defendant convicted of felony OVI and a ‘repeat offender specification’. This issue is complicated enough that different appellate courts in different districts of Ohio have reached different conclusions. The Ohio Supreme Court recently acknowledged the conflict among the appellate courts and issued a decision which resolves the conflict and establishes one rule for the entire state.
In State v. South, the defendant was convicted of third-degree felony OVI and was also convicted of the repeat offender specification. The trial court sentenced the defendant to five years in prison for the felony OVI and three years in prison for the repeat offender specification. The trial court considered both prison terms ‘mandatory’ and ordered that the prison terms run consecutively, for a total of eight years. The trial court’s decision was appealed to the Ninth District and ultimately the Ohio Supreme Court. The issues decided by the Ohio Supreme Court were: (1) in this situation, what is the maximum prison term for a third-degree felony OVI; and (2) whether the prison term for the felony OVI is mandatory.