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Court Overturns No Operator’s License Conviction

The Second District of Ohio Court of Appeals recently overturned a conviction for a defendant charged with no operator’s license.  The court found that a defendant can’t be guilty of a no operator’s license charge where he had a license, but the license was suspended and he failed to pay the reinstatement fee.

A little after midnight, a Huber Heights police officer saw the defendant, Mr. Harrison, park his truck, exit the driver’s side and climb into the back bed of the truck.  Defendant Harrison then reached under a toolbox in the back of the truck and pulled out a bottle and took a drink.

The officer walked over, saw that the bottle was a Bud Light Beer bottle, and smelled beer.  Upon checking Harrison’s identification, the officer discovered that his license was suspended and that Harrison had not paid the reinstatement fee.  Harrison’s failure to reinstate after suspension happened as the result of an administrative suspension for testing positive for driving under the influence.

Harrison was charged and convicted of one count of having an open container, a minor misdemeanor, and one count of having no operator’s license, a first-degree misdemeanor. Following a bench trial, the defendant was sentenced to a fine of $5.00, court costs, 180 days in jail, with 170 days suspended, and one year’s probation.

On appeal, the defendant argued that he shouldn’t have been found guilty of having no operator’s license because he had a valid license—it was just suspended.

The court of appeals agreed and overturned his no operator’s license conviction.  He had a license that was suspended, so he shouldn’t have been found guilty.  Therefore, his conviction for having no operator’s license was reversed and vacated.

The Huber Heights ordinance under which Harrison was convicted says that “no person . . . shall operate any motor vehicle upon a public road  . . . unless the person has a valid driver’s license.”

The court noted that other Ohio appellate districts have also found that a person driving with a temporarily suspended license would be guilty of violating statues prohibiting driving under suspension, but not statutes prohibiting driving without a valid license.

In short, the court held that you can be convicted of driving under suspension or operating a vehicle without a license—not both.  If you have a suspended license, the proper charge is driving under suspension—not operating a vehicle without a license.

Whether Harrison was charged under the local Huber Heights ordinance or under the applicable no operator’s license statute—R.C. 4510.11(A)(1)—the conclusion is the same.  A defendant cannot be convicted of failing to have a driver’s license where he does, in fact, have a license.  Here, Harrison’s license was simply suspended, and he had failed to pay the reinstatement fee.  Therefore, he should not have been found guilty of having no operator’s license.

The case is State v. Harrison, 2013-Ohio-1235.