The person must cause or have caused movement of the motor vehicle on the public roads or highways within this state during the period of the suspension.
State v. Wilson
2022 – Ohio – 3202
Supreme Court of Ohio
September 14, 2022
On Valentine’s Day, Wednesday February 14, 2018, a Cincinnati Police Officer responded to a call placed at 5:30 a.m. by a concerned neighbor who spotted a vehicle crowded with young people parked on a residential street. Arriving three hours later, at roughly 8:30 a.m., the officer identified the reported vehicle and approached, finding four individuals fast asleep inside the running car, with Ms. Katherine Wilson at the helm of the driver’s seat. Promptly waking everyone up, the officer soon uncovered the reason for their sleeping in the car. One of the individuals lived in the house right across the street and, upon the parent tossing the group out, the foursome sought refuge in the car to sleep (sleep it off, really). Continuing his investigation, the officer also discovered Ms. Wilson was currently under a driving suspension, and thus he cited her for driving under an OVI suspension.
The trial court convicted Ms. Wilson of OVI and she appealed to the First District Appellate Court. The First District Appellate Court reversed the trial court and held that Ms. Wilson did not ‘operate’ her car and therefore her conviction should be overturned. The State of Ohio appealed and the Supreme Court of Ohio in a four to three decision determined that Ms. Wilson did not ‘operate’ her vehicle and Driving Under Suspension conviction should be overturned.
O.R.C. § 4510.14(A) states in pertinent part “[N]o person whose driver’s … license … has been suspended under section 4511.19 [OVI] … shall operate any motor vehicle upon the public roads or highways with this state during the period of suspension.”
The controversy in this case is determinative on what the term ‘operate’ means as used in O.R.C. § 4510.14(A).
Sitting in the driver’s seat while the vehicle is running and impaired …
In State v. Cleary, 22 Ohio St.3d 198 (1986) the Supreme Court of Ohio held “[O]peration of a motor vehicle within the contemplation of the statute is a broader term than mere driving,” and in fact “a person in the driver’s position in the front seat with the ignition key in his possession indicating either his actual or potential movement of the vehicle while under the influence” sufficed for purposes of O.R.C. § 4511.19 [OVI].
Sitting the driver’s seat with the key in the ignition and impaired …
Then in 1994 the Supreme Court of Ohio further distinguished Cleary when, in State v. Gill, 70 Ohio St.3d 150 (1994), it opined “A person who is in the driver’s seat of a motor vehicle with the ignition key in the ignition and who, in his or her body has a prohibited concentration of alcohol, is “operating” the vehicle within the meaning of O.R.C. § 4511.19 [OVI] whether or not the engine of the vehicle is running.”.
The Supreme Court of Ohio provided a detailed analysis as to why both Cleary and Gill were decided in the manner that they were to inhibit impaired drivers, but that these cases should not be extended to convict someone of ‘driving’ or ‘operating’ a parked car, with the key in the ignition – running or not, for Driving Under Suspension.
Impaired yes – Driving Under Suspension … uhm no …
We thus conclude that the plain-language definition of “operating” a vehicle (the purpose of which is transportation) involves movement … We determine that in order for a person whose license is suspended for an OVI offense to be guilty of driving under an OVI suspension, the person must cause movement of a motor vehicle on the public roads or highways within this state.
In order for a person whose license is suspended for an OVI offense to be guilty of driving under an OVI suspension, the person must be in more than mere physical control of a motor vehicle. The person must cause or have caused movement of the motor vehicle on the public roads or highways within this state during the period of the suspension.
Information for this case was obtained from State v. Wilson, 2022 – Ohio – 3202.
This case was issued by the Supreme Court of Ohio in a four to three decision and is binding on the entire State of Ohio.
- The Supreme Court of Ohio did not extend the previous decisions of ‘operate’ from sitting in the driver’s seat of a vehicle impaired to sitting in the driver’s seat while under an OVI suspension. However, if a person is behind the wheel of a vehicle and is impaired with the vehicle running or key in the ignition, then that person can still be charged with OVI in accordance with both Cleary and Gill.
- If a person is in the driver’s seat and is under an OVI suspension with the car running or key in the ignition, then that person should not be charged with O.R.C. § 4510.14(A) – Driving Under an OVI Suspension. However, what about other suspensions? The Supreme Court of Ohio addressed this question and effectively held that if a person who is under any driving suspension in O.R.C. 4510 should not be charged. Specifically, the court opined “Thus, today, the definition of “operate” in O.R.C. § 4511.01 (HHH) applies by its own terms to only O.R.C. § 4511 [Traffic Laws] and O.R.C. § 4513 [Unsafe Vehicles] and not, for instance, the offenses involving “operating” a vehicle while under various types of suspension found in O.R.C. § 4510 [Driver’s License Suspensions].”.
- The wordsmithing by the court and legislature as to whether someone is ‘operating’ makes the hardest job in America … even harder. But once again law enforcement will do what is right and be able to distinguish when to criminally charge someone with OVI and not charge a similarly situation person with Driving Under Suspension.
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Don’t let your training fail you!
Be safe, smart and Objectively Reasonable!