Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Prior Decision on Payment of Court Costs Applied to Three Cases

The Ohio Supreme Court today decided three additional cases based on its July 2 decision that a trial court does not have to consider a convicted criminal defendant’s present or future ability to pay court costs when considering the defendant’s request to have the costs waived, suspended, or modified.

In one-sentence entries, the Supreme Court reinstated trial court decisions in Madison and Montgomery counties citing its reasoning in its State v. Taylor decision.

In Taylor, a Supreme Court majority found that Ohio law gives trial courts wide discretion when considering whether to “waive, suspend, or modify” court costs, and the law does not express what a judge must consider when deciding to retain or change the amount owed.

The decision reversed a Second District Court of Appeals split decision that found the terms of R.C. 2947.23(C), which gives judges the ability to reduce court costs, imply that a trial court must consider a defendant’s ability to pay.

Today, in State v. Dunson (Slip Opinion 2020-Ohio-3871) and State v. Sibrian (Slip Opinion 2020-Ohio-3876), the Court reversed two more Second District Court of Appeals decisions. In those cases, the Second District also had reversed the trial court decisions for failing to explain how the court considered the defendants’ ability to pay.

In State v. Holder (Slip Opinion 2020-Ohio-3875), the Court affirmed a Twelfth District Court of Appeals decision upholding the trial court’s rejection of Lawrence Holder’s request to waive his court costs.

Law Gives Trial Court Discretion
Justice R. Patrick DeWine wrote the Court’s majority opinion in Taylor. He stated that R.C. 2947.23(C) does not impose a consideration of the defendant’s ability to pay on trial courts, and noted “the proper role of a court is to construe the statute as written without adding criteria not supported by the text.”

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Sharon L. Kennedy and Judith L. French joined Justice DeWine’s opinion. Justice Patrick F. Fischer concurred in judgment only.

Chief Justice O’Connor also wrote a concurring opinion, stating that where there is “strong evidence” of a defendant’s inability to pay, a trial court’s failure to consider the defendant’s present and future ability to pay may be an abuse of discretion. The chief justice also stated that the General Assembly should amend the statute to require that trial courts consider a defendant’s ability to pay due to the burden that uncollected court costs have on courts, defendants, and the families of defendants.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Melody J. Stewart wrote the Court’s job is to interpret both the text and “purpose” of a state law, and the purpose of the court-cost law requires a judge to determine whether the defendant can pay immediately or in the future.

Justice Michael P. Donnelly joined Justice Stewart’s dissent.

Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.

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