On February 18, 2015, the Ohio Supreme Court settled a critical issue involving law enforcement officers in Ohio. In State of Ohio v. White, the Ohio Supreme Court held that Ohio’s firearm specification statute will not apply to police officers acting in the line of duty.
Ohio’s firearm specification statute, ORC 2941.145, imposes a mandatory three-year prison term for criminal offenses committed using a firearm. The purpose of the specification is to enhance the punishment of criminals who use a firearm while committing a crime and to deter criminals from using firearms.
An Ohio police officer, Officer White, engaged in a traffic stop with two motorcyclists that were visibly disobeying traffic laws. Officer White believed that one of the motorcyclists was reaching for a weapon and fired one shot at the motorcyclist. A knife was later found on the victim. Officer White was charged with felonious assault with an added firearm specification.
At trial, a jury convicted Officer White of felonious assault with the firearm specification. Officer White was sentenced to 10 years, seven years for felonious assault and a consecutive three years for the firearm specification. Officer White appealed the decision and Ohio’s Sixth District Court of Appeals dismissed the firearm specification with prejudice holding that it was unconstitutional as applied to a police officer.
The Ohio Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals. The Court concluded that the Ohio General Assembly did not intend the firearm specification to apply to a police officer who fired a gun issued to him to protect himself, fellow officers, and the public from a person he thought was about to brandish a weapon. However, in circumstances where a police officer departs from the course and scope of their law enforcement duties, they remain on equal footing with members of the public who commit crime while displaying, brandishing, possessing, or using a firearm.
The National Fraternal Order of Police submitted an amicus brief on behalf of Officer White. It can be accessed here. The National Fraternal Order of Police is the world’s largest organization of sworn law enforcement officers with more than 350,000 members in more than 2,100 lodges across the United States. Crabbe, Brown & James’ Managing Partner, Larry H. James, has served as General Counsel to the National Fraternal Order of Police since 2001. CBJ, on behalf of the National FOP, offer their service as amicus curiae when important law enforcement and public safety interests are at stake.