NEW PHILADELPHIA — Among the legal responsibilities of the county prosecutor’s office are the prosecution of all felony cases and juvenile cases; prosecution of some misdemeanor cases; and providing legal counsel to all county and township boards and elected officials.
Of those responsibilities, felony prosecution consumes approximately 70 percent of the office’s time and resources.
The Ohio Constitution requires that all felony cases be heard by a grand jury. There are two ways a case can proceed to the grand jury.
First, a person can be arrested. In such a case, a preliminary hearing must be held (generally within 10 days) in the New Philadelphia Municipal Court or the Tuscarawas County (Southern District) Court.
At the hearing, if the judge finds that probable cause exists for the charges, the case is bound over to grand jury for consideration, and the jurisdiction is transferred to the Court of Common Pleas. These are known as bindover cases.
The second way that a case may proceed to the grand jury is that a law enforcement agency submits the case for grand jury consideration without arresting the suspect. These cases are known as direct referrals.
New cases by highest charge level
The Court of Common Pleas has ultimate jurisdiction for all felony cases. The court impanels a grand jury three times per year. Each grand jury serves a four-month term and generally convenes one day per week to hear evidence of felony cases.
While the court supervises the grand jury, the county prosecutor presides over the sessions in accordance with Ohio law and the judge’s instructions.
If the grand jury finds probable cause for a felony case, the charges are formalized into an indictment. Most new felony cases are indicted through the grand jury process.
However, in some cases, an accused person has worked out an early resolution with the prosecutor, agrees to be charged with a felony, and waives his right to grand jury consideration. These cases are formalized in a bill of information and generally proceed directly to a guilty plea and sentencing.
Other felony cases prosecuted include extraditions and post-decree motions.
Extraditions are cases involving an arrest on an out-of-state felony warrant, and the hearing concerns whether the warrant is valid and the defendant is the right person.
Post-sentence motions involve re-opening closed felony cases, and the vast majority are motions to revoke probation.
The Ohio General Assembly, through the Revised Code, defines crimes and classifies them as misdemeanors (punishable by, at most, county jail) or felonies (punishable by, at most, prison).
There are five different degrees of felonies, ranging from fifth-degree, the least serious, to first-degree, the most serious.
There are also unclassified felonies, which are generally the most serious (such as murder and child rape) and usually entail some variety of a life prison sentence. In the following chart, unclassified felonies are included under the F-1 classification.
Most cases end in traditional sentencing. Some cases proceed to special dockets, which include Drug Court, Intervention in Lieu, and Diversion.
These special docket resolutions include a finding of guilty; however, instead of being immediately sentenced, a qualifying defendant is given the opportunity to comply with a particular program. If they fail to comply, they may be revoked and sentenced. If they successfully complete the program, their case is dismissed and, by law, sealed.
Drug Court is a rigorous drug treatment and accountability program. Intervention in Lieu is a program created by state law for lower level felons seeking drug treatment through an agency other than Drug Court.
Diversion is a program operated by the court’s probation department for low-risk offenders with minimal or no criminal records.
While all cases involve various hearings before trial, relatively few proceed to trial.
Factors that affect this phenomenon include charging decisions of the prosecutor, open discovery (exchange of evidence between parties), and the assessment of the evidence and risks by both parties.
Dismissals can occur for a variety of reasons, including a grand jury declining to indict a bindover case (no bill), successful completion of drug court, intervention in lieu or diversion, suppression of police evidence by the judge, death of a defendant, determination by the prosecutor that a case is sufficiently compromised due to unavailable witnesses or newly discovered evidence, etc.