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Valley courts get an F in OVI convictions



Published: Sun, September 30, 2012 @ 12:10 a.m.

Low conviction rates reflect poorly on area, leader of agency says

By Ed Runyan

runyan@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

Because of her job for the past 10 years, Andrea Paventi closely watches the way courts in Mahoning and Trumbull counties deal with people who drive while intoxicated.

She gives most of the courts a failing grade based on statistics showing that barely half of the people charged with operating a motor vehicle impaired end up with an OVI conviction.

Paventi, director of the Mahoning County TASC [Treatment Alternatives to Street Crime], a nonprofit organization that tracks and tests Mahoning County OVI offenders and runs an OVI school, said the two counties actually have a “bad reputation” in some circles for low OVI conviction rates.

“Attorneys have said this same thing doesn’t happen in Columbus or other areas of the state. It’s unique to this area,” Paventi said.

The horrific crash last week in Newton Township that killed a Newton Falls couple and seriously injured the other driver may illustrate the problem with how repeat OVI offenders are treated, Paventi said.

The couple, Jamie Danes, 37, and his wife, Emily, 29, were headed home from Niles, where they celebrated their wedding anniversary with dinner and a movie, when they were struck head-on by Paul Wodianka, 42, of Diamond, whose 1997 Cadillac crossed the center line at a high rate of speed, the Ohio State Highway Patrol reported. The Danes’ vehicle was in its proper lane.

The impact crushed the front of the Daneses’ Chevrolet Impala nearly to the firewall. Jamie and Emily, who have an 8-year-old son, were pronounced dead at the scene. The state patrol has a blood sample from Wodianka, who was taken to St. Elizabeth Health Center with serious injuries, and will use it to determine whether Wodianka was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the accident.

Lt. Brian Holt of the patrol’s Southington post said police suspect Wodianka was under the influence.

HISTORY OF OFFENSES

Wodianka lived on West Rockwell Road in Austintown in 1996 when he was charged with his first operating-a-motor-vehicle-impaired offense. He was 26, and the charge was called driving under the influence then. Judge Fred Bailey of the area court in Austintown dismissed the charge without much comment in the court record.

Wodianka was convicted of OVI in that same court four years later by Judge Joseph M. Houser after being charged by the state patrol. Wodianka received six days jail time, was placed on a year’s probation, had a six-month license suspension with work privileges and was ordered to receive a substance-abuse assessment.

He violated the terms of his probation, which caused him to spend two months in the Mahoning County jail.

Over the next few years, Wodianka was charged with several offenses in Mahoning County — receiving stolen property, failure to maintain assured clear distance, disorderly conduct and driving under suspension.

He never again was convicted of OVI, though he was charged with it two more times.

After Wodianka crashed his car into a guardrail and tree on state Route 62 in Canfield on April 3, 2008, state trooper Philip Robinson said he noticed Wodianka’s speech was slurred and his eyes were bloodshot. Wodianka refused to take a blood-alcohol test and was charged with OVI.

He was convicted in area court in Canfield of having physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, fined $750 plus court costs and sentenced to three days in jail.

On Oct. 10, 2010, Wodianka was arrested by Austintown police after an officer observed his pickup truck crossing the solid, yellow center line three times on state Route 46.

The officer charged him with OVI and several drug offenses after officers found Ativan (a Valium-type of drug) and Roxicodone (a pain medication) in a pill bottle in the truck.

Wodianka eventually was convicted of a drug charge in area court in Austintown indicating the presence of drugs in his system, fined $750 and sentenced to 23 days in jail. His driver’s license was suspended for one year. An alcohol assessment was ordered.

Because Wodianka was charged with OVI three times that didn’t result in OVI convictions, Paventi said she believes Wodianka is an example of why the OVI conviction rate is low in Mahoning and Trumbull counties.

LOWER-LEVEL CONVICTIONS

One of the troubling trends, Paventi said, is that many OVI offenders whose penalties should be enhanced because of multiple offenses or high concentrations of alcohol in their system are being convicted on a lower-level OVI charge.

When Ohio House Bill 163 took effect in 2004, it instituted more harsh penalties for repeat OVI offenders, such as a mandatory prison sentence of one to five years for anyone with five or more convictions in the past 20 years, and increased penalties for OVI offenders who refuse a chemical or Breathalyzer test if they have more than one prior OVI conviction, Paventi said.

“We want high-tier (high concentrations of alcohol) and multiple-DUI offenders to have more accountability for their actions than just three-day DUI schools,” she said.

Paventi’s statistics, which she localized from OVI statistics generated by the Ohio Supreme Court, indicate that one court in Mahoning and one in Trumbull have relatively high OVI conviction rates: the area court in Sebring (68 percent) and Warren Municipal Court (85 percent). The courts in Columbiana County also average 83 percent.

LACK OF JAIL SPACE

Paventi said one of the problems in Mahoning County is the lack of sufficient jail space to lock up OVI offenders. She has met with county officials to discuss the possibility of reopening the county’s minimum-security jail so that OVI offenders could be housed there at the offender’s own cost, but the idea hasn’t gotten much traction.

Judges in Mahoning County know that jail time is not an option in many cases because of lack of jail space, so it affects the sentencing, she said.

Judge Patrick Cunning of Campbell Municipal Court said the lack of jail space is always a factor in sentencing, but not just for OVI.

“Resources play a role in the entire system,” he said.

Judge Cunning said a jail stay resulting from an OVI conviction isn’t necessarily going to alter an offender’s lifestyle. Treatment is a more effective factor, he said.

Other judges contacted for this story did not return calls seeking comment.

Judge Cunning said he’s never been made aware that the area has a lower OVI conviction rate than other areas.

HIGH RATE IN WARREN

Greg Hicks, Warren law director, said a variety of factors can contribute to the OVI conviction rate, including the quality of the evidence from law enforcement.

But Hicks said he thinks having two full-time prosecutors handling OVI cases in Warren results in more consistent handling than when smaller courts with part-time prosecutors handle them.

Part-time prosecutors usually have a private practice in addition to their prosecutorial duties and might be more inclined to accept a plea and a reduction because of the amount of time involved in going to trial on an OVI, Hicks said.

“We don’t pussyfoot around. We take DUI seriously,” Hicks said of Warren prosecutors. “We’re here eight hours anyway. If they don’t want to take the deal, we say, ‘We’ll see you tomorrow.’”

Judge Thomas Gysegem of Warren Municipal Court notes that the physical control charge Wodianka was convicted of is a DUI-related offense with similar penalties as DUI. When he sees that type of charge in someone’s record, it impacts the sentence the person gets the next time they are charged with OVI.

Judge Gysegem said it’s important for judges to ensure that OVI offenders undergo the treatment programs he orders for them. In his court, a pretrial hearing is scheduled for several months after the conviction to find out whether the treatment took place.


Comments

1gdog4766(1466 comments)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

It's because the judges need the lawyers to contribute to the re-election campaigns. They are too friendly.

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2endthismess(307 comments)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

Make room and gets these lousy killing drunks OFF OUR STREETS! How hard is this to do????? STOP MAKING PITIFUL EXCUSES.

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3Lifes2Short(3875 comments)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

rk

"driving drunk doesn't hurt anyone."

Are you really serious?

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4Crimson1012(62 comments)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

"Valley courts get an F in _______________"

You can fill in the blank with anything you like, it will be accurate. OVI's are monitored closely by the state, and I am sure that is part of why it is coming to the forefront...

But what about everything else...?

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5cal1062(2 comments)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

The reason is most judges and attorneys are nothing but drunks themselves. This story is nothing new - My family was hit head on by a drunk back in 1980 - killed the drunks passenger - screwed up our lives forever. Good old Brookfield court gave him ONE YEAR suspension and $100 doll fine - that was IT!!! No jail time - no nothing. It was not the first DUI for the low life and he fcking walked. The scum bag got another DUI about 6 months later in Ashtabula county - and he walked again - so he learned nothing by killing someone. I asked the scum bag attorney how he could defend this low life since the attorney's own family member had been killed by a drunk - his answer - "it's all in the money". Jerk is no better than the fcking drunk. The laws will never be enforced like they suppose to be when you have people in charge that are just a guilty as the scum they are trying in court - the saying "everyone has driving drunk at least once" is total fcking buii shlt - and I have even heard an idiot judge say that once. I used to work for the State Patrol in Ohio - so I have seen allot.

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6Hysol(3 comments)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

I have worked in the Trumbull and Mahoning court systems. Almost every municipal prosecuting attorney is a part time employee, generally working about 12 to 15 hours a week. In all OVI cases the Defendant is entitled to three different hearings, the last being a trial, which if tried to a jury would typically take 2-3 full days. If the courts and prosecutors offices insisted in all OVI cases result in OvI convictions with severe penalties, there would be no incentive for the offender to plea, and all cases would result in the offender taking advantage of all of the available hearings. If that occurred, the cours would not be open for business enough hours to prosecute anything but OVI cases, and all other criminal and civil cases would have to be dismissed. With the part time judges in some courts and the part time prosecutors in most courts, it is simply a matter of judicial economy. Warren Muni is fortunate to have Traci and Nick as full time prosecutors, but that is a rare case. I believe most of the area prosecutors seek to do the best they can given the limited time they are employed in that capacity.

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7Hysol(3 comments)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

Oh and one other thing. Writing a news article and quoting the opinion of a person who is in a business that makes a living off of persons convicted of OVI is probably not the most unbiased vision of the whole story.

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8steelwagon(284 comments)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

We all know there's a fortune to made with these ovi cases.
It's a game of lower the charge,jack up the fines,attorney fees and court costs.
Give the repeat offender driving privileges so he can go to work and keep paying .

Never mind the fact that he's caused serious injury or worse as long as he's willing to pay.
Locking the offender up cost the so called legal system money and that's the last thing the system wants !!

When in costody they have to feed,house,transport and take care of any medical issues the offender might have and that cost money.

OVI caese are a gift to the courts that just keeps on giving.
Each enity takes their cut including the probation dept.
Isn't it funny how the probation period only lasts until all fines and fees are paid in full ?
And of course don't forget the insurance industry loves collecting those high risk rates for years too.

Everybody gets a cut...

OVI = Cash Cow end of story !!

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9Attis(873 comments)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

Any drunk who kills someone in an auto accident should be charged with murder, and anyone who is arrested for driving while drunk should be charged with attempted murder.

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10JoeFromHubbard(1023 comments)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

> > OVI = Cash Cow end of story < <

Spot on, steelwagon. The Mad Mothers made having a drink and driving home into a national big issue.

The trial lawyers and county revenuers realized an enormous revenue potential and the "OVI Industry" exploded.

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11dc77(1 comment)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

Just want to say I agree with Attis comment. The only way to stop drinking and driving is to do that. An intresting fact: there are couple of countries in the world that your first offense for OVI is you last. The penalty for OVI is death.
I am not saying that we should do but penalties have to be a lot more than what we have now.

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12gdog4766(1466 comments)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

After reading this story I did some looking on the Internet. In some countries you can't drink and drive period. And if caught the penalties are,very severe. In Austrailia their is no acceptable level of drinking and driving period. Kasich hates the people in his state he should do that. It'll warm his ice cube heart to put all those union people in jail.

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13candystriper(575 comments)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

the alcohol industry spends billions in advertising every year...make them contribute funds to house the offenders...

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14JoeFromHubbard(1023 comments)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

@ candystriper:

Ever wonder what comprises the cost of a bottle of whiskey?
The majority of the cost is tax.

I've always liked Southern Comfort which sold in Ohio for about $6.50 in 1967. When I was in VietNam at that time, it was $2.25, the difference was due to tax not being applied there.

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15hstutzma(3 comments)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

as the niece of the couple lost last friday and godmother/cousin of brendan i am absolutely sick over the comment made by the ignorant jerk above who actually wrote "drinking and driving doesn't hurt anyone"! how about he personally comes to our house and he can tell brendan there was nothing wrong with why his mommy and daddy were killed by some IDIOT drinking and driving, on drugs, and driving irratic! until he walks 1 day in our familes shoes the last week of what we have had to deal with as losing 2 amazing people in our family.. and explaining it to an 8 year old little boy that lost his mom and dad, there is no right he has to make comments as he had! the tragedy our hearts have delt with isnt from a accident! IT WAS SENSELESS, IT WAS A NIGHTMARE, IT WAS UNCALLED FOR, AND IT WAS MURDER! YOU DRINK, DRIVE A CAR, DO DRUGS, AND GO OUT DRIVING LIKE AN IDIOT YOU ARE A MURDERER!

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16hstutzma(3 comments)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

THE LEGAL SYSTEM IS TO BLAME BECAUSE THERE IS NO REASON THIS MAN SHOULDA BEEN OUT AND ABOUT ABLE TO OPERATE A MOTOR VEHICLE! KEEPING HIM IN A "PROGRAM" INSTEAD OF LOCKED UP IS PUTTING A THREAT TO EVERYONE WHO DRIVES A VEHICLE! JUST LOOK AT OUR FAMILIES LOSS LAST WEEK! THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT IT COMES DOWN TO! THE LEGAL SYSTEM NEEDS SOME MAJOR WORK! TIME TO MAKE PEOPLE PAY FOR WHAT THEY DO! THIS MAN BETTER PAY FOR WHAT HES DONE TO OUR FAMLY!

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17Lifes2Short(3875 comments)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

rk

"driving drunk doesn't hurt anyone. "

steel

"OVI = Cash Cow end of story !!"

joe

"> > OVI = Cash Cow end of story < <

Spot on, steelwagon. The Mad Mothers made having a drink and driving home into a national big issue."

Are you freakin idiots that stupid?? A family lost 2 INNOCENT people because of some idiot DRUNK driver. And all you can say is that drunk driving don't hurt no one, it's all a Cash Cow, Mad Mothers to blame. You can't be that stupid, can you? You must be to made such idiotic statements like that, go have a few drinks, get behind the wheel and go kill someone, then you might realize the dangers of drunk driving OR have a member of your family or your child or someone you care about KILLED because of a drunk driver. You'll change your tune real FAST.
Go to the grieving family and tell them that looking them straight in the eyes! You cowards wouldn't have the guts.

What pitiful fools in our society today. Such disgusting filth.

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18drea1991(1 comment)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

Just an FYI... TASC is a private non-profit agency. That being said, any profits from the DUI school goes back into serving indigent clients that need treatment.

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19zz3(931 comments)posted 1 year, 11 months ago

I think someone needs try to sue one of the judges that signed off on this jerk and see what happens. Any lawyers out there? As I said before we have too many judges and need to get rid of a few because it looks like they can't do their job. Attis is correct! Texting should fit in there somewhere too if you've ever been behind one of these idiots you know what i'm talking about

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