Monday, May 07, 2012

Sentence omitting mandatory license suspension void

The Ohio Supreme Court last Thursday held that when a trial court is legally required to impose a driver license suspension as part of the sentence for a criminal offense, but omits including that penalty when pronouncing sentence on a defendant, the sentence pronounced by the court is void and the defendant must be resentenced, although that resentencing is limited to imposition of the required suspension notice. In a separate syllabus holding, the court also ruled that the trial court’s journal entry recording a defendant's conviction need not take note of a property forfeiture ordered by the court in order to be a "final, appealable order" under Ohio Criminal Rule 32(C). [ State v. Harris, Slip Opinion No. 2012-Ohio-1908 ]

With respect to the omission of a mandatory driver license suspension rendering an imposed sentence void, the Court's summary said Justice McGee Brown reviewed a line of decisions culminating in State v. Fischer (2010), in which the Supreme Court held that a criminal sentence that omitted a mandatory term of post-release control was void and the defendant must be resentenced, but that the scope of the resentencing was limited to imposition of the required term of post-release control.

"In affirming that it was appropriate to extend the legal analysis of Fischer to the Harris case, Justice McGee Brown wrote: '(A) mandatory driver's license suspension is akin to post-release control. Like post-release control, a driver's license suspension is required by law to be part of an offender's sentence. ... In addition, if a trial court fails to include either mandatory term, the executive branch is unable to impose either post-release control or a driver's license suspension once an offender leaves prison. ... Unlike the imposition of court costs, a mandatory driver's license suspension is a criminal sanction. Because a mandatory driver's license suspension is a statutorily mandated term, we hold that a trial court's failure to include this term in a criminal sentence renders the sentence void in part. ... Our conclusion reflects the well-established principle that a court acts contrary to law if it fails to impose a statutorily required term as part of an offender’s sentence.'"

Secondarily, the Court disagreed with the Eighth District Court of Appeals' holding that a trial court's forfeiture finding against a defendant must be included in its judgment entry in order to make that entry a "final, appealable order," Justice Brown here writing: "We held in State v. Baker (2008) that a judgment of conviction complies with Crim.R. 32(C) when it sets forth four essential elements. ... We have since clarified those elements to be (1) the fact of conviction, (2) the sentence, (3) the signature of the judge, and (4) entry on the journal by the clerk of courts. ... If a judgment of conviction includes these substantive provisions, it is a final order subject to appeal under R.C. 2505.02.

"In Harris I, the Eighth District held that because the sentencing entry failed to include any information about the forfeiture specifications, the entry was not a final, appealable order. ... However, to reach this conclusion, the forfeiture would necessarily have had to fall within the scope of one of the four essential elements. We do not find that a forfeiture constitutes any of the substantive requirements necessary for compliance with Crim.R. 32(C)."

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