Monday, July 28, 2014

Interpreters in Ohio courts: Rules and resources

There are specific rules in place regarding the use of interpreters in Ohio courts and many resources available to ensure compliance with them. On July 18, 2011 the Supreme Court of Ohio adopted Rule 88 of the Rules of Superintendence for the Courts, which requires courts to use certified foreign and sign language interpreters for court proceedings when available. This rule became effective January 1, 2013. Effective July 1, 2014 the Court amended Rules 80-88 and added Appendix J to provide more detailed information about language and hearing access in Ohio courts.

The Supreme Court of Ohio's Language Services Program offers resources and technical assistance for issues related to access to Ohio’s court system for limited English proficient (LEP), deaf and hard of hearing individuals. The program helps courts, attorneys and interpreters to comply with the Rules of Superintendence and works to facilitate access to the courts for individuals who need these services. Some of their resources include materials such as “Working with Foreign Language Interpreters in the Courtroom: A Benchcard for Judges,” a training video on understanding Rule 88, and PDFs of many important court forms, often translated into multiple languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Russian and Spanish. These resources are available to everyone through the Language Services Program page on the Ohio Supreme Court’s website.

The site also contains information on legal obligations related to working with LEP, deaf and hard of hearing individuals and resources for interpreters who may wish to work with the courts. The Advisory Committee on Interpreter Services provides advice to the Ohio Supreme Court with regard to issues of language access through this program. 

For cases which may require interpreters in Hamilton County Municipal and Common Pleas Courts see this link for information about arranging these services. For these services in Hamilton County Court of Domestic Relations see Local Rule 1.27.

Supreme Court of Ohio: A presentence investigation report is required before a felony offender is sentenced to community control

On July 24, 2014 the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled that a trial court must order and review a presentence investigation report before sentencing a felony offender to community control sanctions, State v. Amos, Slip Opinion No. 2014-Ohio-3160. The case arose from the 8th District Court of Appeals, which heard two cases involving felony offenders who were sentenced to community control without presentence investigations. The 8th District made contrary rulings in these two cases, holding that a presentence investigation was only required when a party requested it in State v. Amos, 8th Dist. Cuyahoga No. 97719, 2012-Ohio-3954 and holding that a presentence investigation was mandatory in State v. Richmond, 8th Dist. Cuyahoga No. 97531, 2012-Ohio-3946.

Although the parties to these cases (the State in Amos and the Defendant in Richmond) requested that the 8th District hear the cases en banc to resolve the conflict, the court declined to do so and appeals were taken to the Ohio Supreme Court, which consolidated the two cases into one.  Justice O’Neill drafted the opinion for the majority. The Court ruled that although requiring a presentence investigation for felony offenders sentenced to community control in cases where the trial court had found one unnecessary “…creates an unnecessary burden on the court’s resources, inconsistent with the general directive of R.C. 2929.11(A),” courts must order one to comply with the revised code. Justice O’Neill wrote that the plain language of R.C. 2951.03(A)(1) and Crim.R. 32.2 “place(s) an unavoidable duty on the trial court to obtain a presentence investigation report in every felony case in which a prison sentence is not imposed.” The Court thus reversed the holding in Amos and upheld Richmond.

Justices O’Connor, Kennedy and French concurred in judgment only, Justices Lanzinger and Pfeifer concurred in part and dissented in part and Justice O’Donnell dissented. Justice Lanzinger drafted a concurring opinion in which Justice Pfeifer joined. Justice Lanzinger argued that the Court is not automatically required to reverse a sentence just because a presentence investigation was not ordered. She wrote that when the parties have not waived the report or objected to the lack of one, “a sentence imposing a community-control sanction for a fourth- or fifth-degree-felony offense should not be disturbed on appeal unless plain error is shown.”Justice Lanzinger asserted that in order to reverse, the sentence must be shown to be “clearly and convincingly contrary to law” and that “the court’s failure to first order and review a PSI report is not a flaw in the sentence itself. Rather, it is a flaw in the sentencing procedure.” She concluded that in these cases, the sentences did not meet the standard.

In his dissent, Justice O’Donnell objected to the Court taking action in this case at all, stating that the Court has never resolved intracourt conflicts on questions of law, but instead requires districts to hear the cases en banc to resolve these issues. He asserted that the cases should be remanded to the 8th District to conduct an en banc proceeding.

For more information about this case see the individual case docket pages: 2012-2093 and 2012-2156 and this article from Court News Ohio.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Supreme Court of Ohio issues decision about the timing of hearings to classify juveniles as sex offenders

On July 22, 2014, the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled that a juvenile court can order a hearing about whether a juvenile who has been adjudicated delinquent can be classified as a sex-offender at the disposition of the case. The ruling in In re I.A., Slip Opinion No. 2014-Ohio-3155, 2012-2122, settled questions about the timing of this hearing pursuant to O.R.C. 2152.83(B)(1). The Fifth District Court of Appeals had previously ruled that in cases where a court sends a juvenile to a secure facility the court could only classify that individual as an offender upon release from said facility, and the Second District had ruled that it could also be done at the disposition of a case. In a decision drafted by Justice Pfeifer, the Ohio Supreme Court settled this conflict by holding that a hearing could be held on this issue at both times. While the decision was 7-0, Justice French drafted a concurring opinion stating that  R.C. 2152.83(B) permits only one hearing over this issue, not a hearing at both disposition and release. 

For more information about the case please see this link from Court News Ohio.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Supreme Court of Ohio Commission on Professionalism releases new judicial professionalism guidelines

The Supreme Court of Ohio Commission on Professionalism has just released the fifth edition of their Professionalism Dos and Don’ts series, entitled Professionalism Dos and Don’ts: Judicial Professionalism. The series generally provides a set of best practices for those working in the legal system. The most recent publication provides guidelines for judges to meet professional obligations while serving in their official capacity. The guidelines are not mandatory rules, but provide direction on appropriate conduct for judges and other legal professionals. The full text of Professionalism Dos and Don’ts: Judicial Professionalism can be found here. For more information see this announcement from Court News Ohio.

Supreme Court of Ohio Announces Parenting Coordination Toolkit

The Supreme Court of Ohio (SCO) announced on July 14 the availability of a Parenting Coordination Toolkit. Per the press release, "[t]he toolkit includes a guide to assist courts in writing a local rule for parenting coordination, a sample local rule, appointment order, screening form, intake form, evaluation tools, and other resources." Intended to support local courts as they develop their parenting coordination programs in line with the standardized Rules of Superintendence, the SCO model uses an alternative dispute resolution approach and is ready to implement fully if local courts choose to do so.

Monday, July 21, 2014

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.

For more information see:

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Ohio adds reverse lookup to sex offender registry

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and the Buckeye State Sheriffs' Association last week unveiled a new reverse lookup feature accessible through the Electronic Sex Offender Registration and Notification Database (eSORN) -- one of only eight states that will now be offering the new sex offender reverse lookup feature.
Sex offenders in Ohio are required by law to register their home address, work address, and vehicle information with their local sheriff's office to be publicly accessible through the eSORN database. Each of Ohio's 88 county sheriff offices input the information into the system, but supplemental information, such as phone numbers, email addresses, screen names, and handles, required by the registry, have not to now been available to the public. 
While the reverse lookup feature will not publicly identify the registered offender, it will direct the individual to contact the local sheriff's office or the Attorney General's Bureau of Criminal Investigation for additional information @