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Ohio Supreme Court Rules on Mandatory Sentencing for Some OVI Offenders

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Yesterday, the Ohio Supreme Court unanimously ruled on mandatory sentencing for repeat OVI offenders. Justice Judith L. French, who authored the opinion, determined that defendants who meet the criteria of a repeat offender and are convicted, must serve a mandatory sentence of one to five years in prison. The decision was unanimous.

Regarding sentencing for OVI offenders specifically, the justices were a bit more divided. A majority five justices agreed to allow trial courts to impose nine to 36 months’ additional imprisonment in cases of OVI offenders.

The decision stems from the case of a Summit County man who was designated a repeat offender. In light of the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision, the case will return to trial so that South can be resentenced for his underlying OVI conviction. Originally, South was sentenced to five years in prison. After resentencing, that will be reduced to somewhere in between nine and 36 months.

According to the Ohio Revised Code 2941.1413, which is our state’s repeat-offender specification, people convicted of a violation of this section are guilty of a third-degree felony, which requires a mandatory sentence of one to five years.

South was a repeat offender, and therefore the three year mandatory prison sentence was valid. However, the five-year mandatory sentence for the OVI was contrary to what Ohio law permits. A five-year sentence for this type of OVI is not mandatory, wrote French, because Ohio law gives the court the option of sentencing offenders in these cases to prison terms of nine to 36 months.

To learn more about this case, read the Slip Opinion No. 2015-Ohio-3930 in the case of State v. South.