DARKE COUNTY — Judge Jonathan P. Hein was elected to serve on the Darke County Common Pleas Court in January 1999. After graduating from the University of Toledo College of Law in 1981, he served as an assistant prosecuting attorney in Darke County for eight years, and as Prosecuting Attorney for six years. He also maintained a private civil practice.
“There was an election, and the new prosecutor was looking to build his staff,” Hein said of the beginnings of his involvement with the prosecutor’s office. “But in those days prosecutors were pretty much part-time, so I kept my civil practice going.”
Judge Hein spoke at length about the many ways his job has changed over the course of his 37 years in the legal profession, including new laws, new legislative priorities, and the ever-increasing influence of technology.
“We’re changing things in this office all the time,” Hein said. “Nobody does the same thing they did 30 years ago. Whirlpool doesn’t do the same thing they did 30 years ago, and neither do we.”
There was no DUI law and no breathalyzer testing when he first got started, Hein said. Then societal priorities shifted, and suddenly there was a push to cut back on drinking and driving. And that was far from the last change.
“In the ‘90s you have Truth in Sentencing,” Hein said. “Where parole boards are being phased out, so there’s no incentive to do anything positive with your jail time, because it doesn’t reduce your sentence. Then, in 2011, the laws changed again, and rehabilitation came back. We decided we were spending way too much money on prisons to get nothing back.”
In particular, Hein said, money was being spent incarcerating low-level drug offenders who were only turned into more hardened criminals by their time in prison. The awareness of this has led to programs like Targeted Community Alternatives to Prison (TCAP), which seeks to get perpetrators of drug-related offenses into treatment, rather than facing lengthy prison sentences.
“We’re at the front end of a big push forward here, where we’re trying to bring it back to the local level and change how we operate to emphasize rehabilitation,” Hein said.
Though many are skeptical that these types of perpetrators can turn their lives around, according to Hein, the efficacy of these programs is a matter of perspective.
“The hard thing is how you look at it,” Hein said. “If you take the 40,000-foot view, it’s easy to be cynical. But if you take it to the micro level, you can see people making positive improvements in their lives.”
As with most industries, Hein said, the biggest changes are those involving technology, especially the internet.
“The biggest change is technology,” Hein said. “How we move, how we get information, how we function. The other day a lawyer from Cincinnati couldn’t make it in, so I took my smart phone and did a hearing with him over the phone.”
Starting in the ‘80s, Hein said, more and more science began being incorporated into criminal law, from forensic technology to court appearances being conducted via video uplink. The one thing that has stayed the same, however, has been human behavior.
“Certain crimes are less common than they used to be,” Hein said. “We don’t have many horse thieves anymore! Sex offenses are more common, because the legislature has pushed that – the awareness, and the reporting. But you’ve also got a lot more whining. We get people coming in all the time saying, ‘He said something about me on Facebook.’”
At the end of the day, Hein said, the important thing is that the legal system continues to work, and to improve the lives of those who pass through it.
“You don’t want people not buying into the system,” Hein said. “Not believing that the courts can solve disputes. We don’t want people shooting it out in the streets! You want people to believe in the system, and be bettered by it.”