Ohio Supreme Court clarifies OVI sentencing laws

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled today on Ohio's sentencing laws for operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol (OVI), clarifying some confusion about the repeat-offender statute and resolving a conflict between Ohio district courts. In an opinion penned by Justice French, the court found that when someone is convicted of an OVI and as a repeat-offender, the court would be required to order a mandatory 1-5 year sentence for being a repeat-offender, but could only add on 9-36 more months to the sentence for the actual OVI conviction.

The case before the court involved Edward South, who was convicted of driving a car under the influence of drugs or alcohol under O.R.C. 4511.19. This was a third degree felony. South was also convicted for being repeat-offender under O.R.C. 2941.1413. The trial court imposed a three-year sentence for the repeat-offender violation and a five-year sentence for the OVI, to be served consecutively. The trial court called both of these sentences mandatory.

On appeal, the 9th District vacated South's sentences, finding that the sentence for the underlying OVI was not correct, as it should have been no more than 9-36 months under ORC 2929.14(A)(3)(b). This decision conflicted with a decision out of the 12th District. The Ohio Supreme Court took up the case, and found that:

Offenders convicted of a third-degree-felony OVI and a repeat-offender specification under R.C. 2941.1413 are subject to the following: (1) for the specification conviction, a one- to five-year mandatory prison sentence, which must be served prior to and consecutive to any additional prison term and (2) for the underlying OVI conviction, a discretionary term of 9 to 36 months.

While the court found that the statutes were "repetitive and confusing," they reconciled the sentencing provisions by reviewing the plain language of each one using "long-established rules of statutory construction."

Chief Justice O'Connor and Justice O'Neill each penned a separate concurring opinion. Justice Kennedy concurred in part and dissented in part, arguing that by reading the sentencing statutes together it becomes clear that the General Assembly allowed for sentences from 9-60 months for the OVI, not limiting it to 36 months.

For more information about the case, see this article from Court News Ohio and the online docket.

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