Ohio Supreme Court: Reduced penalties from amended drug law apply to defendants convicted before and sentenced after law’s effective date.

On July 16, 2014 the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled that defendants convicted of possessing crack cocaine before sentencing laws were amended and sentenced afterwards should receive the reduced sentence in accordance with the amended law. H.B. 86, which became effective September 30, 2011, amended the Ohio Revised Code to eliminate the difference in criminal penalties based on the form of cocaine the defendant possessed. Prior to the passage of H.B. 86, O.R.C. § 2925.11 provided that possession of crack cocaine was a third-degree felony and possession of the drug in its powder form was a lesser, fourth-degree felony.  H.B. 86 amended O.R.C. § 2925.11 to eliminate this difference and classify possession of cocaine in any form as a fourth-degree felony.

The case, State v. Limoli, Slip Opinion No. 2014-Ohio-30722013-Ohio-0403, involved defendant Amber Limoli, who was convicted of possession of crack cocaine on August 18, 2011 pursuant to the old form of O.R.C.§ 2925.11 after entering a no-contest plea in Franklin County. The defendant was not sentenced until October 14, 2011, after the passage of H.B. 86, but was still sentenced to a higher penalty under the old law.  On appeal, the 10th District ruled in favor of Limoli, and the State appealed the decision to the Ohio Supreme Court. The Court found that Limoli should be sentenced to a fourth-degree felony under the amended law.

In its decision, the Court emphasized that the United States Supreme Court has ruled that legislative intent is controlling when determining whether to impose a reduced penalty pursuant to legislation that changes sentencing parameters after conviction, but before sentencing occurs. The Court stressed that the legislative intent of the Ohio General Assembly in passing H.B. 86 was to reduce prison populations and costs by diverting certain offenders and reducing sentences for others, and focused on O.R.C. § 1.58(B), which provides, “If the penalty... for any offense is reduced by a reenactment or amendment of a statute, the penalty... if not already imposed, shall be imposed according to the statute as amended.” The Court found that legislative intent made it clear that O.R.C. § 1.58(B) applied to Limoli's case and remanded it to the trial court for sentencing in accordance with the amended law.