In light of COVID-19 and its unprecedented impact on our entire way of living, I will briefly discuss several temporary changes pertaining to Criminal Cases in Southwest Ohio, with special emphasis on Montgomery and Warren Counties.
- JAILS ARE LESS LIKELY TO ACCEPT NEW INMATES INTO THEIR FACILITIES. To slow down the spread of this pandemic, jail populations have been reduced to minimize the risk to staff and inmates. It appears that only the highest risk offenders (violent offenders, history of fleeing) are being booked into the jails.
- COURTS AND JAILS ARE WORKING TOGETHER TO RELEASE OR SHORTEN THE SENTENCES OF INMATES CURRENTLY IN JAIL.
Judges are reviewing individual cases in an effort to keep in custody only those inmates where it is absolutely necessary for the safety and welfare of the public. It is not uncommon for individuals convicted of and serving time for misdemeanors to see their sentences reduced/terminated. Those individuals awaiting trial are seeing their bond reduced, often to a conditional own-recognizance (COR) bond.
- IN-PERSON ATTORNEY MEETINGS WITH INMATES ARE BEING SUSPENDED.
In Warren County, attorney visits are taking place in the glass visitation booths. In special cases, the Warren County Jail will consider face-to-face visits. In Montgomery County, a subscription-based electronic messaging service is being used. It is my understanding that the jails are providing inmates greater access to the telephone.
- HEARINGS ARE BEING DELAYED FOR CONSIDERABLE PERIODS OF TIME.
In all Courts in which I regularly practice, all cases involving out-of-custody defendants are being continued. Depending on the particular court-involved, these cases are being rescheduled for early-May, if not later. Some courts are continuing hearings to a date uncertain. The cases of in-custody defendants appear to have been given priority over out-of-custody cases, as they should. However, the recently-enacted House Bill 197 tolls the statute of limitations and speedy trial rights of criminal defendants when the periods are set to expire between March 9, 2020, and July 30, 2020. This eliminates a defendant’s ability to take advantage of the current crisis to obtain a dismissal of a criminal case due to a speedy trial violation. HB 197 does not eliminate those important rights; rather, it adds additional days to the statutory periods. It makes sense, considering health concerns and social distancing would make it impossible to empanel a jury at the current time.
- LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS APPEAR MORE RELUCTANT TO CONDUCT FOLLOW-UP INTERVIEWS IN LESS SERIOUS CASES.
- THE FREQUENCY OF MEETINGS WITH PROBATION OFFICERS AND PRETRIAL SERVICE OFFICERS APPEARS TO HAVE BEEN REDUCED.
- COURTS REMAIN OPEN, BUT ACCESS IS VERY RESTRICTED.
In the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court, only essential parties and personnel are being admitted into the Courthouse. These include parties, victims, witnesses, attorneys, news media, employees, and law enforcement agencies. Family members and friends are not permitted to enter. The Warren County Common Pleas Court remains open, but with a number of restrictions on areas within the Courthouse accessible to the public. Each municipal court has set forth its own set of rules regarding access to its facility.
- OBTAINING A QUICK HEARING DATE IS DIFFICULT.
Although difficult, this may be possible in an emergency situation.
HOW I CAN HELP:
- FILE A MOTION TO TERMINATE JAIL SENTENCE.
If not already released, judges may be open to reconsidering whether or not it is absolutely necessary for a convicted offender to continue to serve a term of local incarceration. House arrest may be a more reasonable option. A Motion filed with the Court would explain to the judge the offenders plan of stability if released.
- FILE A MOTION TO REDUCE BOND AND RELEASE FROM JAIL.
Similar to the previous answer, such a Motion would set forth the accused’s plan, if released, and demonstrate steps put in place to ensure a low/reduced risk of re-offending.
- TRYING TO RESOLVE DISPUTES BEFORE CHARGES ARE FILED.
Knowing that a case may take many months before it appears before a court, law enforcement officers may be more willing to settle for a quick and satisfactory resolution before charges are filed. Early intervention by an experienced criminal defense attorney is of key importance. For example, a victim in a financial crime may be satisfied with restitution in a timely manner, which may not realistically occur if court involvement is necessary.
- IN THOSE CASES IN WHICH CHARGES HAVE BEEN FILED, I CAN OFFER GUIDANCE ON PUTTING THE CLIENT IN THE BEST POSSIBLE POSITION WHEN THE HEARING IS FINALLY HELD.
In misdemeanor cases, are there programs that a defendant can complete that would satisfy the Court at a later date and avoid the risk of future incarceration and/or obviate the need for reporting probation? Why not take advantage of the free time and do something to better yourself?
- NOW MAY BE AN OPTIMAL TIME TO GET YOUR RECORD EXPUNGED.
Although Courts are required to conduct a hearing before granting an expungement, some Courts have been willing to a personal appearance at such a hearing. In fact, some Courts may be willing to conduct an expungement hearing via telephone. For people who have suffered job loss due to this pandemic and will be seeking new employment, expunging any eligible offenses will be a necessity.