In Ohio, most misdemeanor DUI cases (called ‘OVI’ in Ohio) are heard in Municipal Courts. However, some misdemeanor OVI cases are heard in mayor’s courts. Mayor’s courts are operated in cities and villages which do not have municipal courts. Although there are nearly 300 mayor’s courts in Ohio, these courts seem to be the least understood. This article provides an understanding of OVI cases in Ohio mayor’s courts.
Ohio Mayor’s Court Jurisdiction
Mayor’s courts have jurisdiction to adjudicate criminal offenses and traffic violations which occur in the geographic boundaries of the city or village. For OVI cases, these courts are authorized to hear ‘first offense’ cases only. They are not permitted to adjudicate OVI cases in which the defendant has a prior OVI conviction, or a prior conviction for an offense which was reduced from an OVI charge, within the past ten years.
Ohio Mayor’s Court Judicial Officer
The judicial officer in a mayor’s court is the mayor, rather than a judge. Perhaps in recognition of the potential problem with the ‘separation of powers’ principle, most mayors appoint a magistrate to preside in mayor’s court. A magistrate must be a lawyer engaged in the practice of law for at least three years. A magistrate must undergo initial training and continuing education, mandated by the Ohio Supreme Court, including training for OVI cases.
Ohio Mayor’s Court Case Process
The process for a mayor’s court case is essentially the same as the process for a case in a municipal court. The first hearing is an arraignment, at which the defendant enters a plea of Guilty, No Contest, or Not Guilty. If the defendant pleads Guilty or No Contest, the mayor or magistrate will impose a sentence.
If the defendant pleads Not Guilty, the case proceeds to a pretrial hearing for the defendant or defense counsel to negotiate with the prosecutor. If an agreement is reached, the plea agreement is finalized before the mayor or magistrate.
If an agreement is not reached, the case proceeds to trial. At the trial, the defendant is presumed innocent, and the mayor or magistrate determines whether the evidence proves the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Moving an OVI Case Out of Mayor’s Court
In Ohio OVI cases, a defendant has the right to a trial by jury. Mayor’s courts do not hold jury trials. If a defendant charged with OVI in a mayor’s court demands a jury trial, the case is transferred to the municipal court with territorial (geographic) jurisdiction.
A defendant in Ohio also has the right to have his case held in a court of record. That means the court must record the proceedings by means of a stenographer, video recording, or audio recording. A mayor’s court is not a court of record. As a result, a defendant charged with OVI in an Ohio mayor’s court has the right to appeal the case to the appropriate municipal court.
A defendant charged with OVI in an Ohio mayor’s court can appeal the case to the municipal court, even after the mayor’s court renders judgment. To do so, a defendant must file a notice of appeal within ten days of the mayor’s court judgment. The case then starts over (‘de novo’) in the municipal court.
Moving a Case is Not Necessarily the Best Strategy
Although a person charged with OVI in an Ohio mayor’s court can move the case to a municipal court, a defendant should not always do so. Some Ohio attorneys automatically file a demand for a jury trial and move the case to a municipal court. In my practice, however, I typically leave the case in the mayor’s court. In the mayor’s courts where I practice, clients are generally treated fairly and are ordinarily satisfied with the case outcome. I only transfer a case to the municipal court if there is a benefit to the client, if a client feels like they were not treated fairly, or if a client is dissatisfied with the case outcome.
About the Author: Shawn Dominy is a leading OVI lawyer in Ohio and the founder of the Dominy Law Firm in Columbus, Ohio. He can be reached through his law firm’s website: Dominy Law Firm.