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Criminal Law Updates Effective April 2023
Post on April 25th, 2023

Recently, Ohio lawmakers passed a criminal law omnibus bill that took effect earlier this month.  Senate Bill 288 impacts dozens of areas of criminal and juvenile law, including updates on possession of drug paraphernalia and fentanyl testing strips, speedy trial law, sexual assault, record sealing and expungement, juvenile justice, and driving laws.  Our recent Spring Malpractice Alert brought attention to the bill, and this week’s OBLIC Alert takes a closer look into three of these topics:

  1. Distracted Driving Laws
  2. Criminal Record Sealing and Expungement
  3. Judicial Release

Distracted Driving Laws

Effective April 4, 2023, the offense of distracted driving is now a primary offense in Ohio (Revised Code § 4511.204).  The first six months, however, are considered an interim public education period (through October 4, 2023).  During this six-month period, drivers may be stopped for violating R.C. 4511.204 but may only be issued a written warning.  After the interim period, citations may be issued to drivers who use a mobile device while driving.

Distracted driving now includes “using, holding, or physically supporting with any part of the person’s body an electronic wireless communications device.”  This includes most manual use of cell phones, tablets, and other mobile devices.  There are 13 exceptions, including emergency contact with law enforcement or medical providers, use that constitutes single tap or swipe, holding a phone to your ear while on a call, and use while at a red light or while parked.  Note that some of these exceptions are strongly opposed by road safety advocates, and amendments to these exceptions are being discussed by members of the Ohio General Assembly.

Under the new distracted driving law, violations of the distracted driving law are unclassified misdemeanors, with the first offense carrying a fine of up to $150 and 2 points assessed to the driver’s BMV record.  On the third offense, a court may impose a fine of up to $500, 4 points, and up to a 90-day driver’s license suspension.

Review all the exceptions and definitions of § 4511.204, and check out this video from the Ohio Department of Public Safety. If you haven’t employed the hands-free options for your vehicle, now is the time to look into enabling it to comply with the law before strict enforcement begins.

Criminal Record Sealing and Expungement

Notably, SB 288 reduces the amount of time an applicant must wait to file an application to seal a conviction record.  Under the new law, the wait time to apply to seal fourth and fifth degree felony convictions is the same as first through fourth degree misdemeanors: an applicant must only wait one year from the completion of the sentence (so long as the offense was not violent).  For a minor misdemeanor, the application may be filed 6 months after the case closure.  For third degree felony convictions, the wait time to file an application remains 3 years from the end of any imposed sentence.  Review versions effective April 6, 2023 of Rev. Code § 2953.31 and 2953.32 for further revisions to criminal conviction sealing laws.

Judicial Release

Ohio Revised Code § 2929.20 now has two new categories of “eligible offenders” – “state of emergency-qualifying offenders” and “eighty per cent-qualifying offenders.”  Procedures for standard “eligible offenders” and “medical reason” judicial release movants have also been modified.

“State of emergency-qualifying offenders” may be eligible for judicial release during a declared state of emergency under a similar procedure to the eligible offender judicial release procedure (see R.C. 2929.20(A)(2)). Additionally, the “Eighty per cent-qualifying offenders” category has been created and specifies a separate process for review of a recommendation for judicial release by the department of rehabilitation and correction (see R.C. 2929.20(O)(1-6)).  


The Ohio State University’s Drug Enforcement and Policy Center recently held panel discussions, “Senate Bill 288 – Implications for the Criminal Justice System in Ohio” featuring Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission staff, prosecutors, court staff, and policy experts.  For further discussion of aspects of this criminal omnibus bill, review a recording of the free webinar:  Watch Panel 1 on YouTube and Watch Panel 2 on YouTube.

Finally, in tandem with SB 288, House Bill 343 (effective April 6, 2023) includes codification of statutory notice requirements to victims anticipated by the constitutional amendment passed in 2017 commonly called “Marsy’s Law.” This area of law continues to develop in light of the constitutional amendment.

OBLIC takes pride in delivering relevant and timely information to our insured attorneys.  Please remember our complimentary Loss Prevention Hotline – a resource for policyholders to access helpful recommendations, ethics consults and sample forms. We’re here to help resolve your questions and be of service to you!

Gretchen K. Mote, Esq.
Director of Loss Prevention
Ohio Bar Liability Insurance Co.
Direct:  614.572.0620
[email protected]
Merisa K. Bowers, Esq.
Loss Prevention Counsel
Ohio Bar Liability Insurance Co.
Direct:  614.859.2978
[email protected]


This information is made available solely for loss prevention purposes, which may include claim prevention techniques designed to minimize the likelihood of incurring a claim for legal malpractice. This information does not establish, report, or create the standard of care for attorneys. The material is not a complete analysis of the topic and should not be construed as providing legal advice. Please conduct your own appropriate legal research in this area. If you have questions about this email’s content and are an OBLIC policyholder, please contact us using the information above.