What Prosecutors Do.
- Work with law enforcement agencies to pursue convictions for people guilty of crimes.
- Serve as legal counsel for all county and township offices.
- Advocate for crime victims and their families.
- Pursue evidence that may exonerate an innocently accused person or mitigate punishment.
- Support and promote community safety initiatives.
Ohio’s county prosecuting attorneys are primarily ministers of justice and the voice for victims. As ministers of justice, prosecuting attorneys play an integral role in our public safety. They prosecute adults accused of felony crimes and juveniles accused of delinquent acts. Some Ohio county prosecuting attorneys prosecute adult misdemeanor offenses, as well. At the same time, prosecuting attorneys are the courtroom advocates for victims of crime and their families.
Within each of Ohio’s 88 counties, the office of prosecuting attorney will differ somewhat in size and scope, according to the available needs and resources. However, all prosecuting attorneys work closely with law enforcement to pursue convictions for those guilty of crime and to stand up for the rights of victims. In addition, prosecuting attorneys and their staff are responsible for the legal needs of all county and township officials, and serve as counsel for those offices.
County prosecuting attorneys begin criminal casework once they have determined that law enforcement officers have collected enough evidence to suggest a felony offense has been committed. If arrested, the accused appears before a municipal court judge who will hold a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is “probable cause” that the individual committed the alleged offense. If probable cause exists, the case is bound over to the court of common pleas. A case cannot proceed to trial in the court of common pleas unless it first goes through a grand jury.
The prosecuting attorney presents the case to the grand jury on behalf of the State of Ohio. In this proceeding, only the prosecuting attorney,
the grand jury members, and witnesses are authorized to attend. When a grand jury finds probable cause that a person committed the alleged offense, it votes to indict that person (now called a defendant), and the case is then set for trial in the county’s court of common pleas.
At this point, the prosecuting attorney presents the case against the defendant. Cases can be resolved in one of several ways – by a plea agreement reached between the prosecutor’s office and the defendant’s attorney before the case goes to trial, by jury verdict at the end of a trial, or by the decision of the judge alone when the defendant decides not to have a jury hear the evidence. The latter is referred to as a bench trial.
Throughout this process, prosecuting attorneys balance their duties as ministers of justice and as advocates for the victims of crime, with their ethical duty to pursue evidence that either may exonerate a person accused of a crime, or mitigate punishment. Prosecuting attorneys make sure victims are aware of court dates, the status of pending court cases and the availability of appropriate community resources and services. Prosecuting attorneys also invite the input of crime victims and take their feelings and wishes into account during the prosecution and resolution of the case against the defendant.
Prosecuting attorneys also recognize the importance of educating the general public, news media, local office holders, and other constituencies on the roles and responsibilities of their office. In addition, they are proactive supporters of community safety initiatives, especially for seniors, children and families.
- Determine how a criminal case will end, and ensure that the penalty fits the crime.
- Provide certainty for conviction and punishment, rather than the unpredictability of a jury trial decision.
- Ensure public safety with swift resolution and conviction of guilty criminals.
- Reduce burden, strain and expense on crowded court dockets.
- Save victims from further trauma and involvement in court proceedings
Prosecuting attorneys are justice-driven. However, they understand that, no matter how strong the evidence may be, no case is guaranteed to end in a guilty verdict at trial. Plea negotiation is the process through which the prosecuting attorney and the defendant’s legal counsel work out an agreement on how the case should end, subject to approval by the judge and almost always by the victim, as well.
Many plea agreements involve the defendant pleading guilty to a particular offense, to fewer of the charges in a multicounty indictment, or to an agreed sentence. Ultimately, the goal of plea negotiation is to make sure the penalty fits the crime. The certainty of a conviction and punishment is the primary reason that prosecuting attorneys engage in plea negotiation.
In cases involving multiple defendants, prosecutors may reach a plea agreement with one defendant in exchange for his or her testimony against another. This provides the prosecuting attorney with a greater likelihood of winning a conviction against other defendants.
A common misconception is that prosecuting attorneys use plea agreements to increase their number of convictions, simply for more “wins” in court. In fact, as ministers of justice in their respective counties, prosecuting attorneys are sworn to pursue justice for every offender charged with a crime.
Estimates vary, but most legal experts agree that 90 percent of all
criminal convictions are the result of negotiated pleas.
Plea agreements ensure that criminals are convicted and sentenced for their crimes, which enhances public safety. Negotiated pleas also help relieve some of the strains on overcrowded court dockets and, in so doing, save taxpayer dollars. Without plea agreements, our courts would bog down, justice might not always be served, and our criminal justice system would be unaffordable for taxpayers.
Plea agreements benefit the criminal justice system. The sheer volume and demand of cases filling a court docket require some kind of reasonable – yet just – alternative to the time and expense involved in scheduling and holding a trial. Prison overcrowding is also an important consideration. To further alleviate overcrowding in county jails and the state prison system, judges may agree to “process out” certain low level offenders.
Plea agreements also benefit victims of crime and their families. They bring about an end to the case, and victims are able to hear the defendants accept responsibility for the crimes they have committed. Plea agreements may help avoid further trauma for the victim.
Across Ohio, negotiated plea agreements annually save taxpayers millions of dollars that can be better spent on other cases that truly need jury trials to get a conviction or on other vital needs within our criminal justice system.
Process of the Grand Jury in Ohio.
- Offer citizen-reviewed, independent and impartial screening of those accused of felony crimes.
- Are selected from registered voters and licensed drivers and serve two to four months.
- Take a pledge of secrecy that applies to every aspect of the proceeding.
- Help ensure innocent persons are not falsely accused, and evidence against accused persons is considered fairly.
The citizens of Ohio play an important role in our criminal justice system. Through service on a grand jury, everyday people instill a confidence in our society that criminal cases are independently considered and reviewed by the citizenry.
Grand juries are convened by the county courts of common pleas and consist of nine members and six alternates. Grand jurors are selected from lists of registered voters and/or licensed drivers. Most grand jurors serve for a period of two to four months. The frequency of grand jury meetings can vary from once a month to daily, depending on the case load.
A grand jury is not the same as the 12-person body that hears cases. A trial jury is technically called a “petit jury.”
County prosecuting attorneys, representing the State of Ohio, are responsible for presenting evidence and witness testimony. The grand jury listens to the evidence and testimony and decides whether the accused should be tried for a felony crime. Grand juries consider felonies, which are crimes punishable by imprisonment. Lesser offenses, called misdemeanors, are considered solely by the prosecutor’s office.
If a grand jury finds “probable cause” that a crime was committed, it returns an indictment (true bill) against the accused person, allowing the case to proceed toward a trial. An indictment may only be found by the concurrence of seven or more jurors. If a grand jury does not find “probable cause” that a crime was committed, it returns a “no bill,” and charges against the accused will be dismissed.
After all the testimony and evidence has been presented, everyone except the nine grand jury members must leave the room. The foreperson leads a discussion and conducts a vote. No vote is taken until each member has been heard. The foreperson then records the vote and files the record with the clerk of court.
The grand jurors make a pledge of secrecy. This pledge is of the utmost importance, is permanent and applies to all aspects of the grand jury proceedings. Grand jury deliberations and votes, as well as the names of witnesses and questions considered shall not be disclosed. There are two reasons for this oath of secrecy. First, accusations may be brought before the jury, which, after its examination, may deem the accusation as unfounded. If publicity were given to the fact that the grand jury had investigated a person or organization, their reputation might be ruined. Second, if a person who is likely to be charged with a criminal offense by the grand jury should learn of the investigation, he or she might flee.
The grand jury can investigate any crime committed within the county. However, an inquiry must be crime-related and directed by honest and conscientious motives to decide if a person should be charged with a crime. When considering any special investigation, the details are worked out with the judge or prosecutor. Grand jurors may require the clerk of court to issue subpoenas for witnesses to appear and testify. However, grand jurors are not detectives or prosecutors authorized to make private investigations. Ordinary citizens make up the grand jury and decide whether enough evidence exists to send a case to trial. A grand jury exercises diligence, impartiality and secrecy to protect innocent people from false accusations and to assure accused persons that any evidence against them is considered fairly.
- Without question, DNA testing is a resourceful tool, especially when the perpetrator is unknown.
- A sample of blood, urine, semen, saliva or skin cells can help identify a criminal who would otherwise go uncharged.
- However, additional evidence is usually needed to obtain a conviction.
Prosecutors and law enforcement use DNA as a tool to convict the guilty and exonerate the innocent. DNA is genetic, hereditary material found in virtually every cell of a person’s body. DNA can come from blood, bone, hair, saliva and other body tissues and products from an individual. More than 99 percent of human DNA sequences are the same in every person – but enough differences still exist to distinguish one person from another. Only identical twins have exactly the same DNA. Scientists can use these differences to generate a DNA profile of an individual.
History: The ability to determine a DNA profile began in the 90s. In 1992, the Ohio Supreme Court held that DNA evidence may be relevant and admissible at trial. By 1997, the State began to take blood samples from convicts and put the results into CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) to help solve crimes that would otherwise go unsolved. Today mouth swabs are used to collect DNA from all convicted felons and compared to evidence left at the scene of a crime.
How it Works: Crime scene investigators collect biological samples found at crime scenes. These samples are analyzed at forensic labs to determine the DNA profile of the person who may have left the substance behind. Once the profile is determined, the question becomes whether or not the profile eliminates the suspect or is a match. When the DNA profile does not match, we know that person did not contribute to the sample.
Examples of How DNA Can be a Crime-Fighting Tool: A person is raped and does not know the attacker. Semen is left behind on the victim or on clothing. Swabs are taken and submitted to a lab. The lab puts that DNA in the CODIS system. If the attacker cannot be eliminated as a suspect, his photograph is produced with five others and shown to the victim. The victim positively identifies the suspect. This is an example of DNA leading to a suspect’s arrest. Or consider the “Grim Sleeper” serial
killer suspect in California. DNA from the crime scenes were a partial match to a young man in the CODIS system. The partial match indicated the young man was either the child or parent of the serial killer. From these leads, detectives narrowed the investigation to the father. They tested a discarded slice of pizza the father left at a public food court. He was arrested and ultimately convicted.
What DNA Can’t Do: Popular television shows, the press and movies give the impression that DNA solves every crime like a magic wand. This leads many people to believe that DNA testing should be used in every criminal case. Police and prosecutors often criticize law enforcement TV shows because they portray an inaccurate image of the usefulness of DNA. DNA test results do not tell you when an item was deposited or who left it behind. For example, a cigarette butt with saliva found at a crime scene may have been left days before a homicide or from a friendly guest and not the killer. Items left at a crime scene may or may not be related to the crime. A person may be a welcome guest at a home that is burglarized. An abundance of their DNA or fingerprints in the home proves only that they were there before the crime was committed.
Sometimes there is not enough DNA or biological material to test. If a burglar wore gloves, not only would no fingerprints be left behind, but there likely would be no bodily substances, either. When a crime is committed from a distance, like a drive-by shooting, DNA testing in the home would only produce confusing results. Ballistic tests on the bullets would produce far better results. Also, DNA degrades as time goes on, so additional DNA testing in old cases may not give reliable results.
DNA evidence testing is time-consuming and at times expensive. Testing a single sample in a typical case takes 54 hours and 15 minutes at a cost of $1,180 per sample. Few cases have single samples, so it is difficult to assign a cost or actual time for the laboratory process.