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Ohio Makes Sweeping Changes to Criminal Justice

On January 3, 2023, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) signed Senate Bill 288 (SB288), making sweeping reforms from heavier penalties for crimes plaguing the state to increased chance for early release, either through the state Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) or by petitioning the courts for sentence review.

The new law, which took effect April 2023, is the product of a two-year legislative project. DeWine complimented legislators “on the fact that they reached out to prosecutors, they reached out to defenders, they reached out to law-enforcement agencies.”

At 1,000 pages, SB288 covers a myriad of topics. It allows for most convicted felons to petition once released to have their record expunged, improving their odds of obtaining housing, employment or a loan. Low-level marijuana and paraphernalia possession crimes are to be erased from people’s records, too. DRC also has more opportunity to grant early release. And Ohio’s Good Samaritan law is expanded to provide immunity from prosecution to people seeking medical assistance for themselves or others in drug overdoses, as long as addiction treatment is sought within 30 days.

SB288 reduces certain sentences, such as underage drinking, but enhances others like distracted driving. Possession of fentanyl testing strips is decriminalized; that change aims to reduce the number of overdoses in the state by allowing drug users to purchase them without concern of violating the law.

The law also creates a Tenth Amendment Center within the office of state Attorney General Dave Yost (R) to monitor new laws, statutes and regulations for potential overreach or abuse. SB288 also created several new offenses. Strangulation is now a crime that is a second- to fifth-degree felony; domestic violence advocates argue that those who commit the crime have a 700% higher probability of later murdering their partners. Also, health care providers are now prohibited from supplying their own sperm in fertility treatments. And aggravated vehicular manslaughter of a firefighter or emergency medical care provider now carries a mandatory five-year minimum prison sentence.

Additional source: Cleveland Plain Dealer