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Special Provision: Mandatory Sentence in Excess of Felony Range Upheld

By: Megan Patituce

In State v. Pribble, the Ohio  Supreme Court tackled the question of whether the sentencing provision set out in R.C. 2925.041(C)(1) – Illegal Assembly or Possession of Chemicals for Manufacture of Drugs – conflicts with the sentencing provisions mandated for felonies of the third degree laid out in R.C. 2929.14.  State v. Pribble, Slip Op. 2019-Ohio-4808 (Nov. 26, 2019).

The relevant R.C. 2925.041(C)(1) provision mandates at least a five-year term of incarceration where a defendant has at least two prior felony drug abuse convictions, at least one of which was for Illegal Assembly, Illegal Manufacture (R.C. 2925.04), or Endangering Children (R.C 2919.22) if related to either of the former.

With the sentencing overhaul, this provision mandates a minimum sentence that exceeds the range that now exists for felonies of the third degree.  The Fourth District Court of Appeals held that the two provisions were in conflict and, as such, relied upon the rule of lenity in ordering a less punitive sentence pursuant to R.C. 2929.14.

The majority opinion, however, found that it need not even reach the rule of lenity, relying instead upon R.C. 1.51, which governs conflicts between general and special provisions.  As a special provision, R.C. 2925.041(C)(1) acts as an exception to the general sentencing provisions within R.C. 2929.14.  As such, the Ohio Supreme Court reversed the Fourth District’s decision and reinstated the trial court’s sentence of a five-year term of incarceration for Mr. Pribble’s third degree felony conviction.

Justice Donnelly delivered dissent worth setting aside a few minutes to read.  Despite the numerous code sections in play, he breaks the issue down in plain language, methodically detailing the legislative history as well as the implications of the majority’s decision.

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