COLUMBUS, Ohio – Imagine this scenario: A drunk driver kills a person in a head-on collision. The court suspends the driver’s license for life and imposes a prison sentence of eight years.
But not long after the driver is released from prison, that person would be able to terminate the suspension and regain full driving privileges.
In Ohio, a person whose driver's license has been suspended for life as a result of an aggravated vehicular homicide offense can apply to modify or terminate the suspension after 15 years have elapsed, even if that person is in prison for a portion of the suspension period.
But two lawmakers are trying to change that with a bill that would require the suspension to begin after the offender is released from prison.
The bill would primarily affect offenders guilty of aggravated vehicular homicide in which drugs and alcohol are involved.
In 2014, about 9,967 people in the United States were killed as a result of alcohol-impaired-driving crashes, 824 of which were not non-occupants, according to a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Rep. Nan Baker, R-Westlake, said the bill would protect innocent people by preventing offenders convicted of aggravated vehicular homicide from gaining their driving privileges shortly after being released from prison. Baker is a sponsor of the bill.
“It’s a limited population, but (the bill) is an important one,” Baker said. “You can’t drive while you’re in prison. We are saying that (the suspension) should start at a time that you are able to drive, not at a time you can’t drive anyway.”
Ohio State Highway Patrol saw 312 OVI-related fatal traffic crashes in 2014 that killed 346 people in Ohio, according to an annual report by the agency. The numbers include drivers and passengers who were killed as a result of the crash.
Ric Oxender, a spokesman for the Ohio Conference of AAA Clubs, said his organization fully supports the bill because it made no sense that an offender could fulfill his or her license suspension period while in prison.
Baker said a court could still grant a person limited driving privileges during the 15-year mandatory suspension under specific circumstances, such as occupation, education or medical purposes.
Judge Michael J. Holbrook, who is with the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, said judges don’t usually impose lifetime suspensions because penalties are often reduced as part of a plea bargain.
Holbrook said he has only imposed two lifetime driving suspensions in his 12 years on the bench.
Jon Saia, an Ohio OVI defense lawyer, agrees with Holbrook.
Saia, who has practiced law for 29 years, said he doesn’t remember any of his clients receiving a lifetime suspension.
The bill, which cleared the House last year, is called HB 300.
Joshua Lim is a fellow in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @JoshuaLim93.