Wait…Is My OVI In Felony Court Or Misdemeanor Court? A Look At How Double Jeopardy Can Attach To An OVI Case

Our love is in jeopardy, baby…ooooh-ooh-oooooh!  Sorry, while reading the case I am about to discuss with you, the song Jeopardy by the Greg Kihn Band kept going through my head on repeat.  Almost like a theme song while I read the case.

Alright, enough of my rambling.  Let’s get to the case at hand!  So crack open that beer and accompany me down the beer aisle for an analysis of State v. Silka, 2016-Ohio-5784.

Silka was issued a traffic ticket for two counts of OVI and one count of Failure to Maintain an Assured Clear Distance.  Silka’s ticket stated in the “Prior OVIs” section the number of prior OVIs was five and the years of the prior OVIs were 1997, 2005, 2009, 2011, and 2014.

At his arraignment, Silka entered a plea of guilty to one first-degree misdemeanor count of OVI and pled no contest to the Failure to Maintain.  The pleas were accepted by the municipal court.  The municipal court then set the matter for a sentencing hearing, a little over a month out from Silka’s arraignment.

Prior to Silka’s sentencing hearing, the city prosecutor filed a motion to dismiss the matter without prejudice, arguing that the case “should have filed as a third degree felony.”  With that in hand, the municipal court granted the city prosecutor’s motion to dismiss.

After being dismissed, the State filed two criminal complaints asserting that Silka committed two OVI violations, felonies in the third degree.  Silka’s case was then bound over to the grand jury where Silka was subsequently indicted on both counts of OVI.

At his felony arraignment, Silka entered a plea of not guilty and immediately filed a motion to dismiss the felony OVI charges.  Silka argued that the felony charges must be dismissed on the grounds of double jeopardy because he already entered a plea of guilty to misdemeanor OVI arising from the same offense.  The State filed a motion in opposition.

The trial court found that the ticket given to Silka did not contain the appropriate information to charge him with a felony, and thus Silka was properly convicted of a misdemeanor offense.  Therefore, double jeopardy applied to prevent the felony charges for the same offense.

Not wanting to accept this decision, the State filed an appeal to argue that the trial court erred in granting Silka’s motion to dismiss.

Alright, I am going to toss a bunch of law out you right now.  I really don’t want to, but unfortunately the law is kind of important this time around.  So bear with me, and I promise to not bore you to death.  It will all tie together…trust me!

Both the Double Jeopardy Clause for both the U.S. Constitution and the Ohio Constitution prohibits 1) a second prosecution for the same offense after acquittal, 2) a second prosecution for the same offense after conviction, and 3) multiple punishments for the same offense.  State v. Gustafson, 76 Ohio St.3d 425.  Jeopardy attaches when a trial court accepts a defendant’s guilty plea.  State v. Knaff, 128 Ohio App.3d 90 (1st Dist. 1998).

A municipal court’s subject matter jurisdiction in felony cases is limited to any hearing prior to indictment or hearing to determine whether probable cause exists. R.C. 1901.20(B); State v. Schooler, 2004-Ohio-2430.  When an offender is before a municipal court on a felony charge, the court does not have jurisdiction to try or convict a defendant of any crime, including a misdemeanor.  State v. Nelson, 51 Ohio App.2d 31.

Now, a complaint prepared pursuant to Ohio Traffic Rules simply needs to advise the defendant of the offense with which he is charged, in a manner that can be readily understood by a person making a reasonable attempt to understand.  State v. Wysin, 2013-Ohio-5363.

When the presence of one or more additional elements makes an offense one or more serious degree, the affidavit, complaint, indictment, or information either shall state the degree of the offense which the accused is alleged to have committed, or shall allege such additional element or elements.  R.C. 2945.75(A)(1).  If it DOES NOT, the affidavit, complaint, indictment, or information is only effective to charge the least degree of the offense. Id.  Thus, a complaint is sufficient to charge a third degree felony OVI when it indicates the offender “has been convicted of or pleaded guilty to” a felony violation of R.C. 4511.19(A), regardless of when the violation and the conviction or guilty plea occurred.  R.C. 4511.19(G)(1)(e).

Well was that not fun or what?!?  Okay, now that is out of the way, what does all this mean for Silka?

Silka’s traffic ticket indicated that he had five prior OVIs and listed the years of those convictions.  The ticket DID NOT, however, state the degree of the offense with which he was currently being charged nor did it indicate whether any of his prior OVI convictions were felonies, as required by R.C. 2945.75(A)(1).  Thus, Silka’s ticket was only effective to charge him with the least degree of an OVI offense – a first degree misdemeanor.

With all of that, the appellate court found that the municipal court had jurisdiction to accept Silka’s guilty plea and jeopardy attached once the court accepted Silka’s plea to the misdemeanor OVI.  Ergo, Silka’s felony OVI charges are barred by the constitutional protections against double jeopardy.

And that my friend’s is the yin and yang, the bada and the bing!

Obviously, this case was EXTREMELY fact sensitive and took a very skilled attorney to catch Sikla’s ticket’s fatal flaws!

For more information about Ohio OVI Law, please check-out my website www.daytonduilaw.com

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