Broader perspective on sentencing needed

The views of Union City Police Chief Mark Ater published in The Daily Advocate on March 4 deserve correction. Like many debaters, he hand picked convenient facts, argued them to his pre-determined conclusion, and disparaged Prosecutors, Judges and Victim Advocates along the way.

Since the Chief failed to attend any of the Court proceedings, he was not thorough in investigating the facts. He had no first-hand knowledge on which to base his viewpoint and opinions (this is a good example why hearsay evidence is not permitted in Court proceedings).

However, instead of trying to set the facts straight on this one case, a broader perspective on the law may be helpful to the public.

Most importantly, Judges and Prosecutors do not have unfettered discretion when handling criminal cases. Existing laws and rules must be followed. Since 2011, the Ohio Legislature and Ohio Supreme Court passed new laws and rules that must be followed. Perhaps he should criticize the Ohio Legislature and Supreme Court instead of attacking local officials who follow these laws (by the way, the Chief is aware of these new laws).

The Chief complained that the offender in his case was released on bond following arrest. Does he know that the rules for setting bond changed in 2020 such that release during the pre-trial process is expected under most situations? The constitutional principle that people are presumed innocent is furthered by the bond rule. It would have been fair for the Chief to have admitted that the offender appeared in court as ordered during the entire case.

Clearly, the Chief wanted a prison sentence for the offender in his article. Many studies by universities in Ohio, nationwide think tanks, and even the FBI clearly demonstrate that giving most offenders prison or jail sentences actually increases the likelihood the offender will be a repeat offender, as prisons are great training grounds to learn more unlawful behaviors. These studies are the reason the Ohio Legislature changed the laws many times since 2011 to require non-prison sentences for lower level offenses, including the case presented in the prior article.

The Chief’s apparent desire for more prison sentences will only lead to increased crime rates and make the streets more unsafe. Certainly, he is busy enough without the criminal justice system actually making matters worse.

In Darke County, approximately 60 percent of all felonies are low level property crimes, minor injury crimes and drug abuse cases. Therefore, following current laws, most offenders here do not receive prison sentences or long jail sentences. Instead, offenders are frequently sentenced to some local jail time and rigorous probation supervision to solve the problems causing the crime (substance abuse, poverty and poor housing).

To check the effectiveness of these new laws and probation methods, the Common Pleas Court commissioned a study in 2018 validated by The Ohio State University which determined that local probation methods reduce recidivism 50 percent more than expected (using two different Ohio specific measures). This success rate apparently doesn’t fit the Chief’s narrative – but it does serve the public’s interest by reducing future crime in Darke County.

Finally, the Chief claims that victim rights were violated. Ohio law guarantees victims the right to know about court dates and participate in them; the victim must simply express interest to the Victim Advocate. Prosecutors routinely verify in court compliance with victim’s rights. Also, any member of the public (including victims) can review the court’s weekly schedule at its website and can check the online case files. It’s easy to follow case proceedings (no victim appeared in this case or claimed their rights were ignored.)

In summary, Judges, Prosecutors and Victim Advocates are also interested in a safe community – but must achieve that goal by following existing laws. Attacking these officials with incomplete facts and fear-mongering techniques does nothing to achieve this goal.

By Judge Jonathan Hein

Darke County Common Pleas Court