The Van Wert County Courthouse

Wednesday, Jun. 19, 2024

Prosecutor details criminal process

To the Editor:

Although I am unable to comment directly on any pending case, recently I have noticed some confusion in the community about how the criminal justice system works and would like to take the opportunity to explain some of the process. 

The Ohio Legislature writes the criminal laws. The legislature determines what constitutes a crime and how each crime should be punished. The crimes are set out (mostly) in Chapter 29 of the Ohio Revised Code. Each crime contains elements that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt at trial. The legislature defines what crimes are considered to be “violent” offenses and which are not:  there is a list in the Code. Neither the police nor the prosecution has any direct control over the statutory penalties for any crime. Crimes are categorized as felonies and misdemeanors. Felonies are more serious than misdemeanors. The level of crime determines how a crime proceeds through the system.

The Municipal Court has jurisdiction over misdemeanors; the Common Pleas Court has jurisdiction over felonies. Misdemeanor charges are filed directly in Municipal Court with no independent review other than the police and prosecution. However, the U.S. and Ohio Constitutions both require that a Grand Jury review and find probable cause for all felonies (with extremely limited exceptions). The prosecutor presents a felony criminal case to the Grand Jury with recommendations for particular crimes and the Grand Jury votes to indict or not. In Van Wert County, the Grand Jury typically only meets one time per month. 

In between Grand Jury sessions, a person may commit a serious crime that, for the safety of the community, requires the arrest of that person. In that situation, a charge may be filed in Municipal Court, and Municipal Court can issue a warrant for arrest of a person. The accused is then brought into Municipal Court for an initial appearance to set bond and to be advised of the charge. Municipal Court then sets a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is probable cause to bind the case over to the Common Pleas Grand Jury. This probable cause hearing must take place within 10 to 15 days, depending on whether the defendant is in jail or not. 

A charge filed this way in Municipal Court is not necessarily the only charge that will be eventually presented to the next Grand Jury session. The Grand Jury can consider more serious or different charges when the police investigation is complete. Often safety requires that a warrant issue before the investigation is complete. In that case, only one or two charges will be filed in Municipal Court to hold the defendant pending the Grand Jury. More and different charges can be filed later through the Grand Jury. Any concern about the fairness or justice of this initial filing is premature. 

A defendant has a right to have bond set. Bond guarantees that a defendant will appear in court. Bond amounts can range from zero money down and a promise to show up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash. The amount of bond the court sets pending trial depends upon the seriousness of the offense alleged, the alleged defendant’s prior record, and the safety of the community. More serious violent felonies receive higher bonds. 

If a defendant cannot come up the funds to post the amount of bond set with the court, he or she is required to remain in jail. However, other than counting as time already served, pretrial detention in jail has little relation to the length of a defendant’s ultimate sentence. Defendants can remain in jail prior to trial, but then be released after a finding of guilt and sentencing. Conversely, a defendant may be out on bond prior to trial, but then be locked up after a finding of guilt and sentencing. 

The prosecutor’s office and local law enforcement do our best to work on behalf of victims of crime within the constraints of the system. Victims have the right to be consulted about bond decisions and the resolution of the case. In Van Wert, we constantly strive to reach out to and discuss each victim’s case whenever possible. I hope this helps explains what sometimes seems inexplicable on the surface. 

Eva Yarger
Van Wert County Prosecuting Attorney
via email

POSTED: 06/26/20 at 8:54 pm. FILED UNDER: Letters to the Editor