OH SCT Sets Rules for Use of Court Records to Prove Prior Conviction for Domestic Violence

The Ohio Supreme Court has held that a state may prove a prior conviction for domestic violence by submitting a judgment entry of the conviction.  However, this is not the exclusive method the state may use.

The case is State v. Gwen, Slip Opinion No. 2012-Ohio-5046.

In Ohio, domestic violence offenses can be elevated – including up to a felony – if the State proves that the defendant has a prior conviction for domestic violence.  This case involved how the state proves this conviction.

In this case, the defendant was arrested in 2009 after his girlfriend called 9-1-1 alleging an incident of domestic violence.  He was charged with domestic violence, as a third-degree felony under the statute applicable to third-time offenders.

At trial, in order to prove the prior convictions, the state introduced a certified journal entry from a court showing that the defendant pled guilty to domestic violence.  The state also introduced a “series of documents relating to a charge of domestic violence prosecuted against [the defendant] in another court” including a docket statement, a police incident report and other records.  The court’s journal entry was incomplete, however.

Ohio law, R.C. 2945.75(B), provides that:

(1) Whenever in any case it is necessary to prove a prior conviction, a certified copy of the entry of judgment in such prior conviction  together with evidence sufficient to identify the defendant named in the entry as the offender in the case at bar, is sufficient to prove such prior conviction.

The court held that this statute “sets forth one way” for the state to prove the prior conviction.  But the statute is not the exclusive way.  For example, other proof may be offered, including a stipulation or prior testimony from court officials.

However, the court noted that when the state chooses to use a certified copy of an entry from a court, the certified entry must contain the elements required by the Rules of Criminal Procedure.  The court explained that simply a finding of guilty is not enough; the entry must show that a sentence was imposed.  “A judgment of conviction does not exist without a sentence,” the court said.  In order to be valid, the entry must contain:  (1) the fact of the conviction, (2) the sentence, (3) the judge’s signature, and (4) the time stamp indicating the entry upon the journal by the clerk.


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