Ohio Criminal Process
Every criminal charge in Columbus is serious and must be addressed quickly and knowledgeably. If you have been charged with a crime in the Columbus or Central Ohio area, you it is important to seek the immediate assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Individuals who are unfamiliar with the criminal justice system may find terms such as “arraignment” and “preliminary hearing” confusing and vague.
Your criminal defense attorney can better help you understand the criminal process in Ohio and assist throughout all elements of the criminal process. Brian Joslyn of the Joslyn Law Firm will represent your best interests in any type of criminal proceeding and will help you understand the criminal process in Columbus, Ohio. Call the Joslyn Law Firm at (614) 444-1900 for a consultation today.
An Overview of Ohio's Criminal Justice System
- Columbus Criminal Booking
- Arraignment in Columbus
- Plea Bargaining
- Columbus Preliminary Hearing
- Pre-Trial Hearing
- The Criminal Trial
- Ohio Appeals Process
After an arrest in Ohio, law enforcement officers will take the alleged offender to the police station, where they will be fingerprinted, photographed, and asked simple informational questions, such as, your name and date of birth. Any personal effects, including wallets, ring, and watches will be cataloged and stored.
First Appearance – Once an individual has been charged with a criminal offense, such as OVI, DWI/DUI, a drug-related crime, theft, a violent crime, or a sexual offense, the alleged offender is required to make a first appearance in court. During the appearance, which is also known as an arraignment, the defendant will be informed of the charges they are facing and be informed of their constitutional rights. During this proceeding, the defendant will typically enter a plea of guilty or not guilty, and the judge will determine whether bail is available, and if so, the amount.
At the arraignment, the defendant will also be asked to enter a plea to the criminal charges they are facing. It is important to understand what each plea, listed below, implicates:
- Not Guilty – This plea asserts the facts and charges against the defendant are untrue, and that the alleged offender did not commit the alleged crime.
- Guilty – This plea is an admission to the facts and charges against the alleged offender.
- No Contest – This plea asserts that the alleged offender did not commit the accused crime, but they cannot prevail against the charges.
Subsequent to the arraignment, your attorney will request the prosecution to hand over any witness statements, victim statements, physical evidence, and/or police and investigative reports that will be used against you at trial. In the unlikely event the prosecution fails to comply with this request, your attorney will file a motion to compel discovery.
A plea bargain is an incentive given by the prosecution to the defendant to plead guilty. This option should only be undertaken in circumstances where the evidence is unfavorable against the defendant’s attorney, and the defendant’s attorney believes a plea bargain is in his client’s best interest. The defendant should not initiate a plea without first consulting with an experienced criminal defense lawyer.
There are two general types of plea bargains in Ohio. The charge plea bargain allows the defendant to plead guilty to a lesser charge or only a portion of the charges. The sentence bargain occurs when the defendant pleads guilty to the charges and the prosecutor agrees to a specific sentence, which should be approved by the judge. Although most judges will approve the sentence, there is no law that mandates the judge to abide by the terms of the plea bargain.
Additionally, it is important to remember that a plea bargain is a contractual agreement between the prosecutor and the defendant. If either party fails to uphold their end of the agreement, consequences will follow. If the defendant in any way fails to comply, the prosecutor may revoke the agreement and re-file charges. If the prosecutor breaches the agreement, the defendant may either seek to have the guilty plea set aside or the defendant’s attorney may request a court order compelling the prosecutor’s compliance.
Although plea bargains are generally not the most desirable option, they are sometimes the best alternative available under the circumstances. Trials can be grueling, and often take weeks or months to complete. When considering a plea bargain, the most favorable reasons to choose to enter a plea bargain can include one or more of the following:
- A plea bargain is a quick method to end the criminal process;
- A plea bargain can be a guaranteed way to stay out of jail;
- A plea bargain may result in less serious criminal charges;
- A plea bargain can minimize the costs associated with criminal proceedings; and/or
- A plea bargain can result in less public exposure for the defendant.
In felony cases, the defendant is entitled to a preliminary hearing. This hearing is a crucial stage in the criminal process, and typically occurs within ten days of the defendant’s initial appearance. During the hearing, the defendant’s attorney will ask the prosecution to display evidence intended to be used against the defendant. The defendant’s attorney may engage in cross-examination of prosecution witnesses and also present evidence of his own. This stage of the process must be approached with aggressive, tactical maneuvers in order to uncover weaknesses in the prosecution’s case.
After the judge has heard all evidence, he or she will make a determination as to whether the prosecution has presented sufficient evidence to support a finding of probable cause the defendant committed the alleged offense. If the judge finds that probable cause does not exist, the defendant will be released.
In misdemeanor cases, the defendant’s case will remain in the municipal court if the judge finds probable cause exists. The common pleas court will have jurisdiction over a felony criminal case if the judge finds probable cause exists.
If a plea bargain is not entered after the arraignment, the case will proceed to trial. In some cases, the judge will schedule a pre-trial hearing. During the pre-trial hearing, the prosecution and defense discuss the strengths and weaknesses of their side, and may attempt to re-negotiate a plea agreement.
In order to put forth an aggressive and tactical defense, your criminal defense lawyer may make pretrial motions, such as motions to suppress the evidence or motions in limine to avoid the admissibility of evidence at trial that may be unfavorable or prejudicial towards the defendant.
In light of the motions presented, the prosecutor may seek a plea agreement in order to avoid trial. If the case involves a felony offense, the plea agreement is formally entered in court. The case is then typically referred to the probation department for a pre-sentencing examination and scheduled for a sentencing hearing. If the case involves a misdemeanor offense and a plea agreement is reached, the judge will typically sentence the defendant immediately after a guilty plea.
If a plea agreement cannot be reached, the case will proceed to trial.
Both the United States and Ohio Constitutions require a defendant’s trial be held within a certain time frame after the defendant has been formally charged. These requirements are in place to:
- Prevent unnecessary incarceration while awaiting trial;
- Reduce a defendant’s concern and anxiety regarding the impending trial; and
- Minimize delays that can potentially obstruct a meaningful defense.
In Ohio, the time-frame for a defendant’s criminal trial generally depends on the seriousness of the offense.
- 30 Days - Any trial in the mayor’s courts or minor misdemeanors in any Ohio court;
- 45 Days - Misdemeanors carrying a maximum of sixty days in jail;
- 15 Days - Preliminary hearing in felony cases; and
- 270 Days – Felony case trials.
When considering imprisonment prior to formal sentencing under Ohio law, each day spent in jail is equivalent to three days in prison. Therefore, if an individual is arrested for a felony and cannot make bail, they must be given a preliminary hearing within five days of their arrest, and must be brought to trial with 90 days of the arrest.
If a defendant has been convicted of a criminal offense, they may still be exonerated of the charges against them through the appeals process, depending on the facts of the case. Appeals are rarely successful and can lead to additional lengthy criminal court processes. However, if the appeal is successful, your case may go back to the criminal court, where it will be retried.
Joslyn Law Firm | Criminal Proceedings Lawyer in Columbus
Contact the Joslyn Law Firm today for a consultation about your criminal process questions in Columbus, Ohio. It is important to hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Columbus to help you achieve the best possible outcome in your particular situation. Contact the Joslyn Law Firm at (614) 444-1900 for a consultation about your criminal charges in Franklin County and surrounding counties, including Pickaway County, Madison County, Delaware County, Licking County and Fairfield County in Ohio.