A Warren case brought the issue before the high court.
By MICHELE C. HLADIK
COLUMBUS — Trial courts cannot suspend court costs charged as part of a defendant’s sentence after the sentence already has been issued, according to the Ohio Supreme Court decision released Wednesday.
The high court, however, also ruled if a person is not able to pay those fees, a trial judge can order community service as repayment.
“This alternative is apparently applicable here,” Justice Robert Cupp wrote, referring to the case that brought the issue before the high court.
In 1999, former Warren resident Daniel Clevenger was convicted of breaking and entering and sentenced to five years of probation and ordered to pay court costs.
Clevenger reportedly violated the probation and was sentenced to six months in prison and ordered to pay the costs of his prosecution.
Clevenger moved to Pennsylvania and applied for Social Security disability benefits in 2004. But he was reportedly denied the benefits because he had not paid the 1999 court costs.
He filed a motion claiming indigent status and requesting a suspension of the court costs. The trial court granted the motion suspending the portion of his sentence that involved paying court costs.
The matter was appealed, and the 11th District Court of Appeals remanded the case back to the trial court, to revise its decision and show that Clevenger had been granted a suspension of the court costs and not a suspension of a portion of his sentence.
The matter was brought to the Ohio Supreme Court in February.
“The trial court, upon finding that Clevenger had failed to make payment of the costs imposed, could have considered ordering community service as an alternative to payment, and Clevenger is free to seek that option,” Justice Cupp wrote in the decision.
LuWayne Annos, an assistant Trumbull County prosecutor, represented the state during oral arguments before the high court.
“The debt has not been eradicated from court records,” Annos said when asked Wednesday about the high court’s decision. “My reading of this says he could still come before the judge to see about community service.”
Cleveland lawyer Michael Partlow represented Clevenger during oral arguments. He said he believes Clevenger will be asking the court for community service. Partlow said he is not surprised by the high court’s decision.
“There was a problem with the statute, and no one knew how to approach it,” Partlow said. “It’s a workable result.” He said the real oddity was in spending so much time and money fighting over the issue, but it needed a resolution.