Holding criminals accountable for their actions


I read an article last week on Nbc4i.com about a recent criminal case that was prosecuted by the Columbus city attorney. The Columbus city attorney’s office prosecutes misdemeanors and traffic offenses (crimes not punishable by prison and are not felonies). By way of comparison, our Delaware city prosecutor’s office prosecutes the misdemeanor and traffic offenses that occur in Delaware County. My office, the Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office, prosecutes the felonies (crimes punishable by prison) that occur in Delaware County.

Now, this article, if true, indicated that the city attorney’s office prosecuted a violent criminal who choked (aka strangled — choking is what you do with food; strangled is when someone purposely cuts your airway off), punched, and kicked his victim who then had to go to the hospital. Months later, this violent criminal violated a protection order with the victim (not shocking). This time he assaulted her again, fracturing her eye bone and causing the baby she was holding to suffer a brain bleed when she fell.

This violent criminal pled guilty in the Franklin County Municipal Court to eight misdemeanors and was sentenced to 285 days in county jail with credit for time served. Because these offenses were prosecuted as misdemeanors, this violent criminal could not legally go to prison, hence the time in county jail. It is laudable for a city attorney’s office to hold the line on these violent crimes and to achieve a plea to all of the misdemeanor charges that occurred in this case. But, in less than nine months, this violent criminal will be back on the streets to further terrorize his victims and endanger the public. The outcome could have been drastically different — prison time — had he been convicted of felony charges.

When I read the article, I couldn’t help but shake my head. In Delaware County, we would have charged this violent criminal with felonious assault for fracturing the victim’s eye bone (felony of the second degree, with a possible prison sentence ranging from two to eight years) and attempted felonious assault (felony of the third degree) for strangling her, along with multiple counts of violating the protection order (which are legally misdemeanors). And, no doubt we would have at least consulted with an expert about the level of physical harm suffered by the baby with the brain bleed and charged accordingly. Then, at the end of the day, we would have asked that the violent criminal go to prison (not local jail) for much longer than nine months.

As I read this article, I wondered if felony charges were pursued by the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office. I know anything can happen in a criminal case, so I always try to give people and prosecutors the benefit of the doubt — maybe the county prosecutors tried to convict him of felonies, but it didn’t work out and so the only convictions they could get were refiled misdemeanors. So, I checked the Franklin County Common Pleas Clerk’s Office website to see if there was an indictment for felony charges. The Common Pleas Clerk’s Office is where an indictment charging this violent criminal with felonies would have been filed. I found no such indictment. And again, I just shook my head.

Now, I probably should say this, all of this occurred at a time that I was preparing to be a panelist at the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law’s symposium next week. So, I am keenly aware of some of the disparate aspects of the criminal justice system. At this symposium on Feb. 10, my role is to serve as a panelist to discuss and to debate the role of data in developing sentencing law, policy, and practice in Ohio. The means to achieve this data collection would be through a publicly accessible database that would show sentences by judge, county, and many other attributes. The hope of the database is to inform the public and have a place where sentencing data is collected across the state. There are well-respected jurists on both sides of this issue, each with pertinent and valid arguments both for and against a publicly accessible statewide database. It isn’t a secret that the data gathered will eventually be used in some sort of reform effort to have uniform sentencing guidelines for judges and to enhance consistency in felony sentencing among the 88 counties in Ohio.

As you can guess, I have an opinion about that — much like I do about the violent criminal who was convicted of just misdemeanors in Franklin County. If we are going to have consistent sentencing guidelines, we need consistency among prosecutors’ offices in holding people accountable under the law. We need violent offenders who break eye sockets, strangle, and refuse to the follow the law, to be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. Until that is achieved, the data gathered about sentencing will not be able to incorporate a full and factually accurate picture of the sentencing in the state.

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