What is Judicial Notice?

A recent Ohio Supreme Court case starts off like a joke: A confidential informant and two Ohio Department of Public Safety (“ODPS”) agents walk into a bar. . . .

Unfortunately, what ensued is anything but funny. According to reports, a bartender was charged for serving alcohol to a minor, who was allegedly a “confidential informant” and an employee of the ODPS.

The scenario unfolded in the following manner:

Kimbel approached the bar and asked Kareski for a Bud Light. Kareski told Kimbel the price, grabbed a bottle of Bud Light, opened it, and placed it before Kimbel. Kareski testified that he then noticed that Kimbel’s hands did not have the stamp showing that he had provided proof of his age at the door. He told Kimbel that he could not give him the beer until he showed proper age identification. At that moment, Kimbel pretended that a call was coming in on his cell phone. He passed the money to Kareski, said he would return with identification, and walked away from the bar without the beer.

The conflict in the case emerges over the question of if the “Bud Lite” could be considered beer under Ohio state laws. The appeal turned, partially, by the idea of this “judicial note.” A judicial note is an evidentiary matter. In normal legal cases, the two parties must provide evidence to have something considered as fact. However, when a fact is universally acknowledged and it would be a waste of time to provide evidence, a can take note.

In this case, the judge took note that the beer, by its essential definition, is an alcoholic beverage. However, the Supreme Court disputed the state judge’s note. The said,

[T]he trial court filled a gap left by the state in proving its case by taking judicial notice of an essential element and thereby committing error. . . . [W]e cannot countenance allowing the state to come to trial unprepared to prove its case only to be rescued by a trial court taking judicial notice of an element the state has failed to prove, and committing error in doing so.

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