Proposed Bill Could Change Sentencing for Low-Level Felonies in Ohio

Judges in Ohio could have more leeway in sentencing low-level felons to prison time rather than probation and treatment programs if a proposed bill gains support and makes its way through the legislature this session.

State Rep. Nick Barborak introduced House Bill 251 nearly a year ago, according to cleveland.com, but the measure still has not made its way to the House floor for a full vote. The bill has been controversial and some people have opposed it, including Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Director Gary Mohr.

The proposed bill would give judges throughout the state more leeway in sentencing people who are charged with low-level felonies. Currently, judges are required to offer probation to non-violent, first-time offenders charged with fourth- and fifth-degree felonies instead of a prison term. The bill would end the requirement.

Under the proposed bill, if a person is charged with a fifth-degree felony and he or she is a non-violent first-time offender, there could be a threat of prison time as a penalty, rather than probation and alternative programs.

Although the sentencing in each case is unique to that situation, this change could have a major impact for those facing charges. People convicted of low-level drug crimes may no longer receive treatment and probation. Instead, they could be forced into the prison system.

However, there are some specifics outlined in the bill. For example, when sentencing for possession of a controlled substance, if the amount of the drug involved equals or exceeds 10 grams but is less than 20 grams, the court must comply.

The requirement was part of the state's overall sentencing reform which was instated in 2011 with the goal of reducing prison populations. Mohr said part of the reason he cannot agree with the proposed bill is because the incarceration rate was at an all time high in July 2014.

Mohr testified before the House Judiciary Committee saying the costs to incarcerate a prisoner are continuing to increase. He said he cannot support a bill that potentially could send more people into the prison system when funds are being depleted.

Incarceration is a hot topic issue throughout the country. Some people argue too much money is being spent on housing prisoners when there could be treatments available. Authors of the bill, according to its analysis, think the change would protect the public from future crime by punishing the felon appropriately.

If this bill earns enough support before the end of the legislative session in December, there could be big changes in the way criminal cases are handled in Ohio. Criminal charges always should be taken seriously, especially if the charges could result in a felony conviction. It is important to seek legal counsel immediately and contact an Ohio defense attorney who can help.

For more information about the proposed changes, view House Bill 251.

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