The Ohio Supreme Court ruled today that a specification regarding repeat
OVI convictions does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S.
or Ohio constitutions.
Ohio can raise the felony level and impose an additional mandatory prison term on
OVI offenders who have been convicted of that offense five or more times within
two decades. That is the result of an Ohio Supreme Court ruling today,
which explains that the specification in question is constitutionally
valid and not in violation of either state or federal Equal Protection Clauses.
The ruling stemmed from a 2012 Cuyahoga County arrest. The defendant was
arrested for drunk driving, which was his sixth charge of that kind since
1992. He was charged with two fourth-degree felonies since he had been
convicted five times prior for OVI in the past 20 years.
The repeat OVI specification is detailed in
R.C. 2941.1413 – Mandatory additional prison term for felony OVI violation precluded
unless charging instrument specifies prior convictions.
The defendant petitioned for a dismissal of the repeat OVI specification,
saying that it was unconstitutional for the state to seek a more severe
punishment without showing proof that would trigger a higher felony level offense.
Speaking to the defendant’s argument that the repeat OVI specification
violated his equal protection rights, Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger explained
that equal protection does not require equal penalties. Because simply
having prior OVIs on your record isn’t a crime in and of itself,
this case does not involve multiple criminal offenses, but rather one
– driving under the influence in 2012.
The Eight District applied
State v. Wilson, reversing the lower court’s decision, which would have only been
appropriate had the case involved two statutes prohibiting identical conduct
and imposing different punishments. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that
this was a misapplication of
State v. Wilson, and that the state had every reason to impose enhanced prison time in
this particular case.
For more information on this case,
visit Court News Ohio.