The Ohio Supreme Court last week resolved a conflict between two statutes regarding sentencing for repeat offenders who manufacture methamphetamine. One statute imposes a mandatory five-year prison term for the third-degree felony and another caps sentences for all but certain specified third-degree felonies at three years. The Court ruled that the five-year provision takes precedence and applies to an Adams County man’s sentence, according to Court News of Ohio, the media service for the Ohio Supreme Court.
Adams County Prosecutor David Kelley and Assistant Prosecutor Mark R. Weaver represented Adams County in oral arguments at the Ohio Supreme Court earlier this year. The case involved the 2016 conviction of Darrien Pribble of Manchester, who had multiple felony convictions for manufacturing methamphetamine.
A divided Supreme Court ruled that a 2006 law classifying illegal drug manufacturing as a third-degree felony and setting certain penalties constituted a “special provision” in the Ohio Revised Code and prevailed over “general provisions” of a 2011 criminal sentencing overhaul, which reduced most third-degree felony sentences to three years.
Darian Pribble was convicted in Adams County in 2017 of the illegal assembly or possession of chemicals for the manufacture of methamphetamine. Because of two prior drug convictions, including one for drug manufacturing, Pribble was sentenced to five years in prison under a statutory “third-strike” provision. But citing the 2011 felony-sentencing overhaul, an appeals court found the maximum sentence Pribble could receive would be three years.
In the Supreme Court’s lead opinion, Justice Sharon L. Kennedy wrote that when two laws conflict, the special provision prevails over the general provision, meaning the specific sentencing statute for meth manufacturers applied to Pribble. The Court reversed the Fourth District Court of Appeals decision to reduce Pribble’s sentence and re-imposed the trial court’s five-year sentence.
Justices Judith L. French and Melody J. Stewart joined Justice’s Kennedy’s opinion. Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justice Patrick F. Fischer concurred in judgment only.
In separate written dissenting opinions, Justices R. Patrick DeWine and Michael P. Donnelly stated that the Fourth District’s decision should stand because state statutes regarding third-degree felonies could both be understood as “special provisions.” When similar statutes conflict, the rule of lenity applies and the offender should receive the lesser of the two sentences, they maintained.
Pribble is currently an inmate at the Correctional Reception Center. He has been incarcerated since February 8, 2017 and is eligible for release in June 2021.