Cleveland Ohio Criminal Defense Law Firm
What to Expect in Ohio Criminal Court Proceedings
In Ohio, there are two types of criminal offenses: misdemeanors and felonies. Additionally, criminal offenses can be broken down into traditional criminal offenses (i.e., murder, rape, robbery, theft, assault, trespass etc.) and traffic offenses (i.e., DUI, DUS, speeding, fleeing & eluding, hit-skip, etc.). Both types of offenses encompass both felonies and misdemeanors. By far, felonies are the more serious of the two types of offenses. For example, you can be sentenced to prison after being convicted of a felony, but can only be sent to a local, county, or municipal jail if convicted of a misdemeanor.
Still, being convicted of a misdemeanor can have a devastating impact upon your life. Not being able to drive your car due to a one year driver’s license suspension often means losing your job, defaulting on your mortgage, having your car repossessed and the end of an otherwise perfectly good marriage.
All criminal cases—whether misdemeanor or felony—follow certain basic procedures in the Ohio criminal court system.
OHIO CRIMINAL CASES - COURT PROCEDURES
Arrested or Summoned to Court (either in a Municipal Court or Mayor’s Court)
The person is observed committed a criminal or traffic offense and is taken into custody.
A criminal complaint or a traffic citation is given to the accused in person or via mail.
Notice is provided to the accused of the upcoming court date.
Often times, bail is set by the police officer according to a court bail schedule.
Bond is set by the court (if not already performed by the arresting police officer).
The accused enters a plea of Guilty, No Contest, or Not Guilty to the charges.
- Guilty Plea: a complete admission of wrongdoing; leads to sentencing & jail.
- No Contest Plea: similar to a guilty plea; likely to lead to sentencing & jail.
- Not Guilty Plea: you are now contesting/challenging the truthfulness of the accusations filed against you. The fight is now on.
Depending upon the particulars of your case, your attorney should file a legal document seeking to obtain the information in the government’s possession which it claims supports its belief that you are guilty of the charged crimes. All witnesses that the government intends to use to prove its case against you must then be divulged to your attorney.
Your attorney meets with the prosecutor and presents certain facts and arguments which tend to prove you are not guilty of the crimes charged, or are deserving of plea bargain to much less serious charge(s) for any number of reasons. The goal of a pre-trial is see if an acceptable resolution to the case can be reached (i.e. a plea to a less serious charge, a plea to a smaller number of charges than you are presently facing, plea bargain to a particular sentence, etc.). You can expect to walk out of court following the pre-trial unless you decide to take a plea offer and the court sentences you on the spot to some amount of jail.
Depending on the type of charges involved in your case, there are a number of different types of motions that can and should be filed with the court. Some involve issues related to identifying you as the alleged perpetrator of the crime. Some involve trying to exclude (suppress) evidence that the prosecutor desperately wants to use to convict you. Still others involve obtaining evidence that would prove your innocence that the prosecutors don’t want you to obtain.
You and your attorney, along with the prosecutor, appear before the judge and each side presents its legal and factual arguments as to why each deserves to win on the issues contained in the motion filings. Generally, witnesses are sworn in and present their version of what actions occurred that led up top your arrest and the filing of charges. These hearings are excellent "mock trials" for you to assess the strength of the government’s case against you, and to evaluate the likelihood of prevailing at trial before a jury.
- Picking a jury (a process called voir dire) - A jury will consist of eight citizens in misdemeanor cases and 12 in felony cases.
- Opening Statements - This is your attorney’s opportunity to tell the jury your story which tends to prove that you are not guilty of the charges filed against you.
- Testimony of the Witnesses – All witness who testify must swear to tell the truth. It is through the witness testimony, and the exhibits they introduce, that the government attempts to prove your guilt. Our Constitution clearly states that you have the exact same opportunity as the prosecutor to present witnesses and exhibits before the jury which tends to raise a reasonable doubt about your guilt (i.e., that your are innocent of the charges filed against you).
- Sentencing (if convicted) If the jury found you Not Guilty, you will not be sentenced. If the jury found you Guilty of all or even some of the charges, the trial judge must sentence you. Depending on the charge(s) that you were found guilty of, your sentence can range from straight probation to a very large number of months or years in prison or jail (of course, the seriousness level of the offense you were convicted of will determine the maximum and minimum prison/jail range).
All too often, the trial judge makes mistakes in trials and sentencing which adversely affects your rights as a criminal defendant. When you believe that has occurred, you have the right to appeal your conviction and/or sentence to the Court of Appeal. If you are not satisfied with how the Court of Appeals handled your appeal, you may then further appeal your case to the Ohio Supreme Court. You may then appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Honestly, if your conviction or improper sentence is not reversed in the Court of Appeals, the outcome of your case being altered does not look very promising.