Ohio Senate signs off on bill to allow probate judges to issue search warrants

COLUMBUS — The Ohio Senate signed off Thursday on legislation allowing probate judges to issue search warrants — a law change that was prompted by a court case in Stark County.

SB 161 passed on a vote of 33-0 and heads to the Ohio House for further consideration.

The legislation stems from a warrant obtained from a probate judge by the Alliance Police Department in 2012 as part of an investigation of Little Vegas, a business operating video slot machines. The owners were subsequently charged with illegal gambling, and the gaming machines were confiscated.

But the owners sought to have evidence gathered during the search suppressed, saying the probate judge did not have the power to issue a search warrant.

Legal counsel for the city argued that, under court reforms in the late 1960s, there technically are no longer probate judges — rather, there are common pleas judges who act as part of a probate division of that court. Since common pleas judges do have the power to issue search warrants, the judge in the Little Vegas case had the authority to act.

But justices on the Ohio Supreme Court were not swayed, ruling that the plain language of state law excludes probate judges from the definition of “judge” under applicable sections of state law. As such, they do not have the authority to issue warrants in criminal matters.

SB 161 would change that.

“This legislation clarifies that probate judges can issue search warrants in criminal matters,” said Sen. Scott Oelslager (R-North Canton), the primary sponsor of the bill. “The bill is short and simple yet designed to address a somewhat unknown gap in state law.”


Ohio Senate signs off on bill to allow probate judges to issue search warrants
Marc Kovac
June 18, 2015