Criminal Justice Legislation

SB 97 – Violent Career Criminal Bill (2015-2016)

Link to Bill:
https://www.legislature.ohio.gov/legislation/legislation-summary?id=GA131-SB-97
Status:
Pending
Summary:

Primarily, the bill does several things. First, the bill increases by 50% the mandatory prison term for an offender who has used a gun while committing a crime, and has previously been guilty of using a gun while committing a crime.

Next, the bill prohibits “violent career criminals” from acquiring or using firearms or other specified dangerous devices. The bill defines a “violent career criminal” as someone who, within the previous eight years, has been guilty of two or more violent felony offenses.

The bill also requires a mandatory prison term—ranging from 2-11 years—for a violent career criminal convicted of committing a violent felony offense while armed with a firearm.

Finally, the bill specifies that crimes committed while a delinquent juvenile do not count when determining whether someone is a violent career criminal.

Primary Sponsors:
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Secondary Sponsors:
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Committee:
Criminal Justice (S)
LSC Legislation Status:
https://www.legislature.ohio.gov/legislation/legislation-status?id=GA131-SB-97
Jurisdiction/Legislation Level:
State
Our take on this bill:

The ACLU of Ohio opposes this bill for several reasons. First, this legislation will result in many more prisoners spending much more time in prison. Longer sentences do not significantly deter crime.  This will undoubtedly worsen Ohio’s already overcrowded prison population.

Second, the bill has the potential to be enforced discriminatorily. Currently, this bill does not contain guidelines which would determine what sentence to impose on a violent career criminal. Consequently, because African American and Hispanic communities have traditionally received longer average sentences for similar crimes committed by other offender populations, there is a potential for these communities to face higher average sentences under the proposed 2-11 year range.

Finally, though many of the “violent felony offenses” eligible for the increased mandatory sentence are in fact serious, violent crimes, the bill also characterizes burglary—particularly, a subset of burglary where the perpetrator sneaks into a home with the intent to commit even a misdemeanor inside, and where no victims may be present—as a violent felony offense. While there is no doubt that burglary is a serious offense, it is worrisome that an offender may face a mandatory increased sentence for this particular crime, a crime where the violence present in the other felony offenses is simply lacking.

Because of these numerous problems, the bill should be outright opposed. However, at the very least, sentencing guidelines should be added and the particular subset of burglary should be removed from the bill. Guidelines will help ensure that the mandatory sentences are enforced in a non-discriminatory fashion, and removing the particular subset of burglary will guarantee that only truly violent crimes are eligible for the increased mandatory sentence.

Bill Status:

3/3/15 Introduced in the Senate

4/22/15 Passed out of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee

4/29/15 Passed out of the Senate