Legal Representation in Mayor’s Court and OVI Cases

In Ohio, under Revised Code Section 1905.01, municipalities with a population greater than 200 have the power to create a mayor's court, so long as the municipal court for the county is not within the same municipal limits. See R.C. 1905.01(A); Paul Revelson, Comment, Nothing But Trouble: The Ohio Legislature's Failed Attempts to Abolish Mayor's Courts, 35 U. Dayton L. Rev. 223, 227 n.37 (2010). Despite the fact that only two states—Ohio and Louisiana—still use mayor's courts, these courts are numerous in Ohio, totaling over 300, and can still have a serious impact on a defendant. See Justin Conley & Rebecca McKinsey, Ohio's Mayor's Courts, Big Business, Columbus Dispatch, July 22, 2012 . As such, a defendant still needs an attorney in mayor's court to avoid a conviction, a waiver of his or her rights, or an initial conviction for operating a vehicle under the influence (OVI) that can later be used as a penalty enhancement. This is especially true because mayors—even those who are not attorneys—may preside over a mayor's court if they do not appoint magistrates with three years of legal experience. See R.C. 1905.05(A); Revelson at 228.

Mayor's courts have the ability to prosecute a variety of offenses, including: any violations of municipal ordinances—except for cases involving domestic violence, violations of protection orders, felonious and aggravated assault, assault, menacing by stalking, or aggravated trespassing—which can include criminal violations; municipal parking or standing violations; and any moving traffic violations on a state highway within the municipal limits. R.C. 1905.01(A). While a mayor's court has the power to prosecute those cases, the mayor's court does not have the ability to hold jury trials. R.C. 2937.08. If a defendant has the right to a jury trial due to the possibility of a jail sentence and so chooses to have a jury trial, the mayor's court must transfer the case to the local municipal court. Id. However, importantly, a defendant should still obtain an attorney even for mayor's court. Even though the person presiding over the mayor's court must inform the defendant of his or her rights, the defendant is asked and could easily sign away his or her rights, for example, to a jury trial or an attorney. See May. Ed. R. 12(A)(1).

Additionally, mayor's courts have the ability to hear OVI cases. R.C. 1905.01(B)(1). The only limit placed upon the ability to hear an OVI case is if a defendant has been convicted or pleaded guilty to an OVI within the six years prior to being charged with the current OVI. R.C. 1905.01(B)(1)(b). On the other hand, if a mayor's court convicts a defendant of an OVI, the defendant still faces the same serious consequences as he or she would in a municipal or common pleas court, including jail time and suspension of a driver's or commercial driver's license. See R.C. 1905.201. Further, a conviction for an OVI in a mayor's court can potentially be used to enhance a defendant's penalty for a subsequent OVI conviction in the municipal or common pleas court. See R.C. 4511.19; State v. Kauffer, 10th Dist. No. 09AP-1057, 2011-Ohio-676.

As a result, obtaining an attorney for a charge in a mayor's court is equally as important as obtaining an attorney for a charge in a municipal or common pleas court, especially for an OVI charge.

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