Helping clients understand the court process is essential to providing a strong defense and assists our clients with overcoming the fears and anxiety they are facing. This blog post is designed to assist the reader with understanding the process that may unfold when facing a misdemeanor charge in Ohio. We strongly suggest you consult an attorney immediately if you believe you may be charged or if you are charged with a criminal offense. Remember anything you say to anyone other than your attorney can and will be used against you.
WHAT IS A MUNICIPAL COURT IN OHIO:
Municipal Courts in Ohio handle a variety of cases such as minor traffic offenses, misdemeanor criminal and traffic offenses, evictions, and civil cases where the damage alleged is under $15,000. Felony offenses and civil cases alleging damage over $15,000 are heard in the Common Pleas Court.
HOW IT ALL BEGINS:
All misdemeanor cases start with an alleged crime such as underage consumption of alcohol, driving under the influence, theft, drug possession, or Assault. The next phase of the process is someone, like a witness or a victim, contacting law enforcement (i.e. the police). The law enforcement officer then does an investigation to determine if they have enough evidence to establish probable cause to believe that a criminal offense was committed. The evidence to establish probable cause is much less than what is required to obtain a conviction. In a criminal case probable cause requires the officer to determine if more likely than not a criminal offense has been committed. In order to convict an individual charged with a crime the judge in a bench trial or a jury in a jury trial must find that the person committed the criminal offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt.
WHO DETERMINES PROBABLE CAUSE:
Probable cause is often determined by the investigating officer however it is not uncommon for an officer to ask the prosecutor to review the case to determine whether probable cause exists.
WHAT HAPPENS IF THE OFFICER OR PROSECUTOR DETERMINES NO PROBABLE CAUSE:
If the prosecutor or officer determines that there is not enough evidence to determine probable cause the officer will either continue investigating the case to find more evidence or the case will be closed and no charges will be filed.
WHAT HAPPENS IF THE OFFICER OR PROSECUTOR DETERMINES PROBABLE CAUSE EXISTS:
If it is determined that probable cause exists then a couple of things can happen. If the officer decides on the scene that probable cause exists to charge a person with a criminal offense the officer can write the person a citation or ticket ordering them to appear in court or giving them the time frame to pay a ticket. If the case is a jailable offense, the officer can arrest the person and place them in jail until they post bond or appear in front of a judge. A person charged with a criminal offense that is held in jail will typically see the judge on the next regularly scheduled business day the court is open. Holidays and weekends do not constitute regularly scheduled business days for the court. If the prosecutor makes the determination that enough probable cause exists, the prosecutor will file a request for an arrest warrant with the court and the officers will attempt to arrest the person. If the officer is unable to arrest the person the warrant will stay in effect until the person is found or they turn themselves in.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER ARRESTED OR CHARGED:
The initial appearance on a misdemeanor criminal offense is called an arraignment. An arraignment is an opportunity for the court to inform the individual what they are charged with and what the maximum penalties are for the offense. This is not an opportunity to argue the case. Keep in mind anything you say at arraignment can and will be used against you in the criminal case. We advise that you do not discuss the case with anyone other than the lawyer that you retain to represent you. Once the court has informed the person of what they are being charged with, the individual will have the opportunity to plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest. NOT GUILTY means you are denying the charges and are exercising your right to have the prosecutor prove the case. Keep in mind you have the right to plead not guilty and to require the state to prove the case even if you are in fact guilty. A GUILTY plea is a complete admission to the offense. If you plead guilty the court will proceed to sentencing which could include jail time if the charge you are facing carries a potential jail sentence. It is worth noting that if you plead guilty to a criminal offense where the property of another was damaged, the guilty plea can be used against you in any civil case that may be filed for the property. For example, if you plead guilty to a minor traffic accident, such as rear-ending another car and the person files a civil lawsuit against you for damage to their vehicle, the plea of guilty can be used to win the civil case. A plea of NO CONTEST means you are not admitting guilt but you are not contesting the facts alleged in the charging document. This typically results in the court finding you guilty. A plea of no contest cannot be used against you in any civil case. It is important to understand if you are not sure of how to plead and have not yet consulted with an attorney you should plead NOT GUILTY and contact an attorney immediately.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER I ENTER MY PLEA:
If you plead guilty the court will sentence you, this could be up to the maximum possible sentence available for the offense charged. If you plead no contest the court will decide if you were guilty or not based on the information in the charging document (i.e. the ticket or citation). If the court finds that there is enough evidence in to find you guilty they will find you guilty and enter its sentence similar to a guilty plea. If the court finds there is not enough evidence to warrant a conviction then the court will find you not guilty and your case will be over. If you plead no contest the court will not permit you an opportunity to provide a defense because you have to indicate that you are not contesting the charge. If you plead not guilty the court will establish bond and will set the case for another court date. Different courts handle the next court date differently and it is often based on what you are charged with. The court will typically either set the case for a scheduling conference pretrial, or a trial. A scheduling conference is typically a court date set for you to inform the court whether you have retained an attorney or not. In most cases, if you retain an attorney prior to arraignment or the scheduling conference, the court will cancel the court dates and schedule the next date with your attorney. The exception to this is if the court needs to determine whether a protection order should be issued, for example in a domestic violence or assault case. A pretrial is an opportunity to discuss the case with the prosecutor to determine if there are any plea bargain or plea offers being offered. Keep in mind that the prosecutor does not represent you and anything you say to the prosecutor can be used against you. WE STRONGLY DISCOURAGE YOU FROM TRYING TO REPRESENT YOURSELF. A trial is an opportunity for the prosecutor to present evidence to prove the case and an opportunity for you to defend the case. AGAIN WE STRONGLY DISCOURAGE YOU FROM REPRESENTING YOURSELF. If you represent yourself you are bound by the rules of evidence and procedure that attorneys are trained in. In a majority of misdemeanor cases, with few exceptions, a case is scheduled for a bench trial unless the attorney or client requests a jury trial in writing with the proper amount of time. A bench trial is where the judge determines guilt or innocence and a jury trial in a misdemeanor case is where eight jurors determine guilt or innocence. If you plead not guilty the court will also set a bond. Bond is the financial amount set by the court to ensure the safety of the public and your attendance at all future court dates. Bond can range anywhere from own recognizance, also known as OR bond, which requires no money to be paid for your release from jail to any amount of money reasonably set by the court. The reasonableness of bond is at the discretion of the judge. The court may also set conditions on your release such as pretrial probation, house arrest with an ankle monitor, alcohol monitor, no contact order with certain individuals, curfew, and many more.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT:
After the arraignment, the case can proceed in many different manners depending on the type of case and the facts surrounding the case. It is important to consult with an attorney to determine the best course of action. The next step can be a scheduling conference, a pretrial, a motion to suppress, a motion to dismiss, a bench trial, a jury trial, or many other options. The outcomes of all of these determine how your case ends.
If you are being investigated, questioned, or charged with a criminal offense protect yourself by calling us at (937)426-4000 to schedule a FREE initial consultation. Remember anything that you say to anyone other than your attorney can be used against you in the case.