On January 4, 2022, the Supreme Court of Ohio wasted no time in the new year in entering a historic decision. Over the past few years, criminal justice reform has been on the forefront of the political arena, news media, and equal rights activists. A substantial issue in criminal justice reform is the attempt to reform or outright eliminate the cash bail system. So often, minorities and lower-class defendants are given significant cash bail and afforded no reasonable way to post bail prior to trial. One of the foundational rights in the United States Constitution and Ohio Constitution is the assumption that everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. However, when an individual charged with a crime and given a $500,000 or even $1,000,000 bail, it is hard to imagine how that individual feels they have been presumed innocent.
The Supreme Court of Ohio’s decision in DuBose v. McGuffey , may have changed the way the court system examines the decision of bail. The case stems out of a July 18, 2020 shooting in Hamilton County, Ohio were Shawn Green was killed in an alleged robbery. DuBose and a codefendant, Jamie Shelton, were charged for the death of Mr. Green. At the bail hearing, DuBose’s attorney asked for a “reasonable bail,” based off DuBose’s limited financial means, ties to the community, and a lack of criminal record. The State of Ohio asked for a bond of $1,500,000. The Court sided with the State and set bail at $750,000 for the murder charge and a separate $750,000 for the aggravated-robbery charge.
On January 26, 2021, DuBose’s attorney filed a Motion for Bond Reduction in the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas. DuBose emphasized that he had limited resources, no felony record, and ties to the community. The trial court agreed with DuBose and Judge Wende C. Cross reduced bond to $500,000. The next day, however, the trial court restored the original bail amount as the court had failed to notify the alleged victim’s family as required by Marsy’s Law . Upon re-hearing and input from the alleged victim’s family, the trial court denied DuBose’s motion to reduce bail and all subsequent attempts to reduce his bail were denied by the trial court. Mr. DuBose’s bail remained at $1,500,000.
On September 22, 2021, DuBose filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the First District Court of Appeals. The court of appeals held that bail in the amount of $1,500,000 was excessive because it did not take into account the defendant’s financial resources, as required by Ohio Criminal Rule 46(C)(4). In the view of the court of appeals, “Dubose’s high bail was effectively a denial of bail, without the trial judge making any of the required statutory findings” to hold a defendant without bail. The court of appeals therefore reduced DuBose’s bail to $500,000. The state of Ohio appealed.
The Supreme Court of Ohio emphasized that the sole purpose of bail is to ensure a person’s attendance in court. Both the United States Constitution and the Ohio Constitution prohibit excessive bail (See 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 9 of the Ohio Constitution). The Court held that “a bail amount that is higher than an amount reasonably calculated to ensure the accused presence in court is ‘excessive.’” Due to this reasoning, the Supreme Court held that the State’s appeal had no merit.
The Supreme Court held that when a trial court is determining an individual’s bail, the court must consider five factors per Ohio Criminal Rule 46: 1. The nature and circumstances of the crime charged and whether the crime involved a weapon; 2. The weight of the evidence against the defendant; 3. The confirmation of the defendant’s identity; 4. The defendant’s family ties, employment, financial resources, character, record of convictions; and 5. Whether the defendant was on parole or subject to another form of court control at the time of the alleged offense.
In their agreement with the court of appeals, the Supreme Court held that when a trial court balances the above factors, the court must set bail on the least restrictive means possible that will reasonably ensure an individual’s appearance in court. The Court emphasized the Ohio Criminal Rule’s revision in July of 2020. That Rule’s revision states that the financial conditions of bail must relate to the defendant’s risk of non-appearance in court, the seriousness of the offense, and the individual’s prior record. This means that public safety and an alleged victim or their family’s statement are not a consideration when a court determines the financial considerations of bail. The Court focused on Criminal Rule 46(B)(2) and the fact that any public-safety concerns should be addressed by imposing nonfinancial conditions of bail. Consequently, any financial conditions placed upon an individual charged with a crime must be reasonable.
This decision by the Supreme Court of Ohio is monumental when examining bail reform. So often, a bail amount is set far-beyond the limits of what any criminal defendant could pay. This makes society question whether individuals charged with crimes truly are “presumed innocent.” Bail decisions are often fueled by emotion and statements from individuals who have just been the victim of an alleged crime. The Supreme Court makes clear that when imposing financial conditions of bail, this line of reasoning is inappropriate and so often leads to excessive, unreasonable bails.
We here at Rittgers Rittgers & Nakajima always strive to do everything we can for our clients. From the very start of a case and trying to get you or your loved one out on bond, to working towards a resolution, we never standby and wait to take action. Unlike other law firms, our criminal team does not sit back and wait for trial or for a resolution that the state suggests. We are aggressive and take action to ensure that our clients are set up down the best possible course of action.
We have experience all over southwest Ohio and will exhaust all options in securing the best outcome for you. If you are charged with a crime and have questions or need representation, please give us a call. Our consultations are free, and a member of our criminal team will sit down with you and explain next steps, a plan of attack, and how to best navigate your case. Our phones are open twenty-four hours a day and our number is 513-496-0134.