The Ohio Supreme Court is considering whether a state law that adds prison time for a defendant sentenced for using a gun in the commission of a felony should apply to police officers. It should.
The case before the high court involves Thomas White, a former Ottawa Hills police officer. White was convicted of felonious assault in the shooting and paralysis of Michael McCloskey, an unarmed motorcyclist, during a 2009 traffic stop. A firearm specification added three years to his seven-year sentence.
The 6th District Court of Appeals in Toledo ruled last year that the application of the gun specification in White’s case was unconstitutional, and ordered a new trial. But an ex-police officer should not be treated differently from any other criminal defendant — and particularly not in this case. The effort to dismiss the enhanced penalty seems an attempt to rewrite gun laws for police officers — or at least this one.
The law that created the firearm specification properly does not exempt police officers. They do not deserve special treatment. Officers of the law can and do commit crimes with their weapons, as White has shown.
Officers are required to carry a weapon, and are authorized to use it if their lives or the lives of others are endangered. But it is not standard procedure to shoot first and ask questions later. Footage from the dash-mounted camera in White’s police car showed that Mr. McCloskey was shot in the back without discernible provocation.
Still, state Supreme Court Justices Paul Pfeifer and William O’Neill challenged the constitutionality of the law, at least as it has been applied to one individual. During arguments in the case last week, Justice Pfeifer said: “I know the original reasons for the gun spec, and this surely doesn’t fit ... Common sense tells you the legislature didn’t intend this to be applied to this kind of a situation.”
Justice O’Neill added: “Can you tell me why a police officer carrying a gun, which he is required to do, ends up with an enhanced penalty? I don’t understand that.”
If there are larger issues of exemptions to the gun specification, the General Assembly should address them, thoughtfully and thoroughly. Until then, like any other defendant convicted of a criminal act with a weapon, White must be subject to an extended sentence.
The state law as it stands is applicable — even for officers who unlawfully discharge their weapons in the line of duty.
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