United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division, Dayton
DECISION AND ENTRY
L. OVINGTON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
problem began in this misdemeanor traffic case when a law
enforcement officer wrote a statute number on a citation that
did not correspond to the charged offense. The case is before
the Court following a bench trial. The parties have each
filed a post-trial Memorandum. (Doc. #s 7, 8).
incident in question began when Officer Smith saw Defendant
sitting in a motor vehicle in a parking lot near Area B of
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The motor vehicle displayed
an expired "validation" sticker. To determine
whether the vehicle's registration was currently expired,
Officer Smith conducted a LEADS check that verified the
vehicle's registration had expired about ten months
Smith's citation charged Defendant with "expired
registration" but did not correctly identify the statute
number-Ohio Rev. Code § 4503.21-corresponding with this
charged offense. Instead, Officer Smith incorrectly
identified the charged offense as a violation of Ohio Rev.
Code § 4503. II.
Defendant's trial, Officer Smith altered the ticket by
writing over the statute number so it correctly identified
the charged offense as a violation of Ohio Rev. Code §
4503.21. This statute requires the owner or operator of a
motor vehicle to display in plain view the vehicle's
"validation" sticker. A failure to do so
constitutes a minor misdemeanor. The validation sticker
indicates the expiration of the vehicle's registration
period. See Ohio Rev. Code §4503.191(A).
explained during trial that six days before trial the
prosecutor called to inform him that Officer Smith had
amended the citation to charge him with a violation of Ohio
Rev. Code § 4503.21. Officer Smith acknowledged during
trial that he changed the statute number on the ticket in
this manner. Officer Smith also testified that at that time
when he first wrote the ticket, he informed Defendant he was
being charged with expired registration because his
validation sticker had expired. Officer Smith further
testified that he did not mention anything to Defendant about
failure to pay insurance or tax on the vehicle, as would have
been likely if he intended to charge Defendant with violating
did not assert during trial that the motor vehicle in
question was validly registered when Officer Smith gave him
the citation. Officer Smith testified that his LEADS check of
the vehicle's registration confirmed it was expired.
Based on the evidence presented at trial, including Officer
Smith's testimony, the Government has met its burden of
proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the registration of
the motor vehicle at issue, which displayed an expired
validation sticker, was expired in violation of Ohio Rev.
Code § 4503.21.
contends that the ticket written by Officer Smith was invalid
because it contained an incorrect statute number and was
altered by Officer Smith before trial. Defendant argues that
he was not told the original charge against him had been
dropped, and this left him with the "belie [f] that he
had been charged with a violation that he had not been, in
fact, charged with ...." (Doc. #8, PagelD 17). Because
of this, Defendant reasons, he might have paid the collateral
fine on the incorrect charge, and thus be punished for a
crime he did not commit.
Ohio law, "[c]onsistent with the goal of ensuring
simplicity and uniformity in procedure, a 'complaint
prepared pursuant to [the Ohio Traffic Rules] simply needs to
advise the defendant of the offense with which he is charged,
in a manner that can be readily understood by a person making
a reasonable attempt to understand.' In the
traffic-citation context, this has generally been interpreted
as focusing on whether the defendant had notice of the nature
and the cause of the accusation." Bellville v.
Kieffaber, 114 Ohio St.3d 124, 127 (2007) (quoting, in
part, Barberton v. O'Connor (1985), 17 Ohio
St.3d 218, 221 (1985)) (other citations omitted).
"Traffic offenses need not be issued with the
specificity of indictments." Cleveland v.
Farrell, 2014-Ohio-3131, ¶ 14, 2014 WL 3537826, at
*2 (8th Ct. App. 2014) (citing Cleveland v. Austin,
55 Ohio App.2d 215, 220 (1978)).
present case, the original ticket contained Officer
Smith's statement of probable cause. Officer Smith
reported that the expired validation sticker and his LEADS
search verified that the vehicle's registration had
expired in July 2014. (Doc. #1). Officer Smith also noted
that the offense charge was "expired registration."
Id. The ticket was written in plain, straightforward
language that could be readily understood as charging
Defendant with expired registration. The original unaltered
ticket therefore provided Defendant with "notice of the
nature and the cause of the accusation."
Bellville, 114 Ohio St.3d at 127. This notice was
sufficient even though Officer Smith wrote the wrong statute
number on the ticket because any confusion caused by this
mistake is eliminated by the text of the probable cause
statement and Officer Smith's identification of the
offense as "expired registration." Officer Smith
also credibly explained during trial that he verbally
informed Defendant he was charged with driving a car with an
expired registration. The fact that Officer Smith explained
this to Defendant is consistent with the information he wrote
in the probable cause statement. See State v.
Cooper, 4th Dist. No. 97CA2326, 1998 WL 340700, *2 (June
25, 1998) (noting that a correction at trial of incorrect
numerical designation on a traffic ticket did not mislead the
defendant where the traffic ticket clearly set forth the
addition, the later correction in the charged statute number
on the traffic ticket made the information in the ticket
consistent. It brought together its three main pieces of
information-the statute number, the information in the
probable cause statement, and the charge description
"expired registration." And the combined total of
this information provided Defendant with notice of the nature
of the charge he faced and the cause of the accusation.
See Bellville, 114 Ohio St.3d at 127. Additionally,
the prosecuting attorney added to the sufficiency of this
notice by informing Defendant of the corrected statute number
well before trial. Under all these circumstances,
Defendant's challenges to the validity of the ticket lack
merit. See id; see also State v. Cooper, 4th Dist.
No. 97CA2326, 1998 WL 340700, *2 (June 25, 1998); cf.
Cooper, 4th Dist. No. 97CA2326, 1998 WL 340700, *2;
cf also State v. Mays, 104 Ohio App.3d 241, 243 (2d
Dist. 1995) (misnumbering an ordinance in a complaint did not
deprive the defendant of its essential purpose of notifying
him of the offense with which he was charged); Olsen v.
McFaul, 843 F.2d 981, 930 (6th Cir. 1988)(and cases
contentions do not show that he was deprived of sufficient
notice of the actual charge against him by the change in
statute number. Even if Defendant remained convinced after
the change that he was still being charged under the original
statute number, the changed number did not alter or negate
the information in the probable cause statement that provided
him with sufficient notice of the actual charge of expired
registration. His argument about the possibility of being
punished for a crime he didn't commit is hypothetical
because he has not paid a collateral fine on a charge he
didn't commit. He instead went to trial on the charge of
expired registration. Defendant, moreover, has not presented
information or circumstances showing that the alteration in
the charged offense number deprived him of a fair opportunity
to present a defense during trial. He was provided the
opportunity to present his arguments, his own version of the
situation, and to cross-examine Officer Smith. He does not