Coronavirus (COVID-19) and its Impact on Criminal Cases

In light of COVID-19 and its unprecedented impact on our entire way of living, I will briefly discuss several temporary changes pertaining to Criminal Cases in Southwest Ohio, with special emphasis on Montgomery and Warren Counties.

  1. JAILS ARE LESS LIKELY TO ACCEPT NEW INMATES INTO THEIR FACILITIES. To slow down the spread of this pandemic, jail populations have been reduced to minimize the risk to staff and inmates.  It appears that only the highest risk offenders (violent offenders, history of fleeing) are being booked into the jails.
  2. COURTS AND JAILS ARE WORKING TOGETHER TO RELEASE OR SHORTEN THE SENTENCES OF INMATES CURRENTLY IN JAIL.

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Horwitz & Horwitz, LLC’s Response to Coronavirus (COVID-19)

We at Horwitz & Horwitz, LLC sincerely hope that everyone reading this message is taking whatever measures are necessary to keep themselves and their families safe and healthy during this uncertain time.

As a provider of legal services, HORWITZ & HORWITZ, LLC is deemed an “Essential Business and Operation” and exempt from the Ohio Director of Health’s Stay at Home Order requiring all non-essential businesses to cease all non-basic operations.  In essence, this Order recognizes that there are certain legal matters impacting the public that cannot be ignored until a date uncertain.  As a law firm that focuses on Bankruptcy and Criminal/Juvenile Law, we understand that the financial stress people are dealing with as a result of job loss or reduction in income or the stress of facing a criminal charge may be just as difficult as dealing with the health crises caused by COVID-19.

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Ohio Legislature Amends Intervention in Lieu of Conviction (ILC) Statute, Broadening Eligibility

Intervention in Lieu of Conviction or ILC is a program in which an eligible offender charged with a low-level non-violent felony offense, who committed the offense due to drug or alcohol usage or mental illness or intellectual disability, has the opportunity to obtain a dismissal of the charge(s) after completing court-ordered treatment.  This is a huge opportunity for a person be rehabilitated, without having the stigma and complications resulting from a felony conviction.

Originally, ILC was limited to first-time offenders.  Through a series of amendments to the statute, ILC was made available to offenders with a prior non-violent felony conviction, but only if participation was recommended by the prosecuting attorney.  As you would expect, recommendations from the prosecuting attorney were often few and far between.  Furthermore, offenders who have already “been through” ILC in the past were ineligible to participate in ILC again in a subsequent case.

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Ohio Legislature Amended Nonsupport Statute to Negate State v. Pittman

In January 2017, I posted a blog article discussed December 23, 2016, in the case of State v. Pittman, 2014-Ohio-5001, in which the Ohio Supreme Court held that a person could not be criminally prosecuted for failing to make the payments set forth in an arrearage-only order issued after the date of his children’s emancipation.  The reason behind the decision was that the Nonsupport of Dependents statute, RC 2919.21(B), stated: “No person shall abandon, or fail to provide support as established by a court order to, another person whom, by court order or decree, the person is legally obligated to support.”  In determining the intent behind the statute, the Court focused on the word “is” to show the meaning, stating “RC 2919.21(B) is ambiguous.  It criminalizes a person’s failure to support – in the matter established by a court order – another person whom he is legally obligated to support.  Because the statute uses the present tense in the phrase ‘is legally obligated to support,’ a person charged with a violation must be under a current obligation to provide support.”

Thus, based on Pittman, a person who had a minor child and failed to pay a minimum $50 per month child support order and was $1,000 in arrears could be criminal prosecuted, while a person who had an adult child and no current child support order, but was $100,000 in arrears could not be prosecuted.

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Consumer Fireworks in Ohio – A Few Highlights

Firework Fourth of July

With the 4th of July quickly approaching, in addition to attending community firework displays, many people enjoy purchasing and shooting off their own fireworks.  The laws governing fireworks in Ohio are among the most restrictive in the country.  Because fireworks are readily available for purchase and use in nearby states, many Ohio residents assume Ohio has similar laws and are not well informed on the issue.

The purpose of this article is to provide a few highlights of the Ohio laws governing consumer fireworks.  For further information, please consult Ohio Revised Code (ORC) Chapter 3743, the Ohio Fire Code (OFC) 1301:7-7-56, and the Ohio Department of Commerce, Division of State Fire Marshall.

Consumer fireworks are referred in Ohio law as “1.4G Fireworks”.  These are fireworks that may be found in a licensed fireworks showroom and sold to the public at various retail locations across Ohio.  If you choose to purchase 1.4G fireworks, you have 48 hours to take the fireworks out of Ohio.  Purchasers must sign a form stating the destination to which the fireworks will be taken.  The only items that can be used in Ohio are designated “trick and novelty” which smoke, pop, and/or sparkle.  In Ohio, use of 1.4G fireworks (firecrackers, bottle rockets, etc.) is illegal.

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Does the Automatic Stay in the Bankruptcy Law Prevent a Landlord from Being Able to Evict the Tenant on a Residential Lease?

You are probably aware that when you file a bankruptcy, an “automatic stay” goes into effect right away, which means that none of your creditors can take any further action against you without first getting the approval of the bankruptcy court.  Therefore, if anyone is suing you, that lawsuit has to stop and, if it’s for money damages against you, will most likely be dismissed.  Even if you are in the middle of a divorce action, those proceedings are frozen during the pendency of the bankruptcy action, or at least until an order of relief from stay to go forward is granted by the Bankruptcy Court.

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UPDATE New Ohio Law Goes into Effect 1-18-18 regarding Mugshot Extortion Websites

Earlier this year, I posted the following blog entry regarding Ohio House Bill 6, addressed at ending the practice in Ohio of private mugshot or criminal record websites that require the payment of a fee from an individual in order to have his/her mugshot or criminal records from the site.

Fortunately, this Bill was enacted into law and goes into effect on January 18, 2018.  The new Ohio Revised Code section 2927.22(B) states “No person engaged in publishing or otherwise disseminating criminal record information (i.e., a booking photograph or the name, address, charges filed, or description of a subject individual who is asserted or implied to have engaged in illegal conduct) through a print or electronic medium shall negligently solicit or accept from a subject individual the payment of a fee or other consideration to remove, correct, modify, or refrain from publishing or otherwise disseminating criminal record information.”  Violation of this section is a misdemeanor of the first degree, and each payment solicited or accepted in violation of this section constitutes a separate violation. [Read more…]

The Student Loan Mess: Is There Any Relief in Sight?

I am finding that the hottest topic right now among those who work with bankruptcies is the overwhelming amount of student debt that burdens so many people for years and even decades after they’ve left school.  Currently, there are few ways that people can try to deal with their student loans when they can’t afford to make their payments, such as teaching or practicing medicine in underserved areas for a certain number of years[1], or income-driven plan arrangements through the U.S. Department of Education.  Discharging student loan debt in bankruptcy is not an option unless the debtor’s financial situation is virtually hopeless.

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What Can You Do with a Car That the Lender Refuses to Take Back?

Many people, when filing bankruptcy, want to give back (surrender) their vehicles to the lender who holds their car loans.  The theory is that the lender will take possession and then re-sell the car, and the debtor will get a discharge of that entire debt in the bankruptcy.   If a chapter 7 debtor states on his Statement of Intention that he is surrendering the vehicle, then the debt will be wiped out when the bankruptcy is discharged.

The problem arises when the car is worth significantly less than what’s owed to the lender, and therefore the lender refuses to accept the car back.  You now have the car, but the lender is holding the title.  You can’t sell or trash the car without the title, and — guess what– the lender doesn’t want to give up the title unless you pay what you owe!  Neat little game they’ve got going there, isn’t it?  What can you now do with the car?  Unfortunately, it’s a scenario that’s been playing out frequently over the past few years.

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Can Non-Citizens File Bankruptcy?

There is a lot of discussion now about whether people from foreign countries who live and work in the United States without seeking citizenship should be entitled to the same rights as citizens. Since these non-citizens are consumers who almost certainly will accumulate debt, they may wonder if they can seek relief from their debts under the bankruptcy laws, or whether that right is specifically limited to people who are citizens.

Actually, the bankruptcy laws allow non-citizens to file. The Bankruptcy Code defines “a debtor” as “a person that resides or has a domicile, place of business, or property in the United States,” without requiring that person be a citizen. Therefore, the right to seek relief under the bankruptcy laws is available to both citizens and non-citizens, so long as they can prove they make their home here.

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