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Lawmakers are considering a constitutional amendment to change Ohio's bail system

Joe Deters, Hamilton County prosecutor, testifying on a resolution that would change the state constitution related to bail.
Andy Chow
Statehouse News Bureau
Joe Deters, Hamilton County prosecutor, testifying on a resolution that would change the state constitution related to bail.

Ohio voters could see a measure on the November ballot that changes the way judges can address cash bail for people accused of crimes.

The Ohio House is holding hearings on a resolution that would require courts to consider public safety and a person's criminal record when determining that defendant's bail.

The measure has become a hot button topic in the legislature with disagreement among members on both sides of the aisle as to how Ohio should move forward with its bail system.

The resolution, HJR2, would allow judges to consider public safety when determining how much money should be posted for bail — it also strips the Ohio Supreme Court's ability to prescribe rules related to the amount and conditions of bail.

Joe Deters, Hamilton County prosecutor, testified for the resolution in the House Criminal Justice committee. Deters said the constitutional change will empower local judges to make the decision on bail.

"This is not a judgement made by the judges just willy-nilly. It is a judgement, we have a pre-trial services department in our county," said Deters who added that judges are not dismissive about the process. "This isn't just some 'oh next guy – $100,000.' If that's the case you've got the wrong judges in there."

Rep. David Leland (D-Columbus) said judges already rely too heavily on bail as a way to keep potentially violent criminals behind bars. Instead, Leland contended that Ohio should expand the use of the pre-trial detention system.

Leland asked Deters about the value of pre-trial detention during committee, "That same judge that you think is the right person to be making these decisions is going to be making the decision that this person doesn't get out. Doesn't that procedure make Ohioans safer?"

Deters disagreed and said bail is a faster process compared to pre-trial detention.

Watch: House committee hearing on proposed bail amendment

Opponents of the resolution said the measure takes Ohio in the wrong direction at a time when criminal justice reform advocates — including both conservative and liberal think tanks — had been working on ways to change the state's bail system.

Leland is the sponsor of a bipartisan bill, with companion legislation in the Senate, that increases the amount of crimes that can be considered for pre-trial detention services and the evidentiary standard to keep someone presumed to be a violent criminal in jail until trial.

A main component of the argument around cash bail is whether it should be used as a tool to keep potentially violent people behind bars or if it is strictly a financial accountability measure.

Robert Alt, president and CEO of The Buckeye Institute — a conservative think tank — opposed the resolution and voiced support for the legislation that expands the pre-trial detention system.

"It's simply bad policy to allow violent criminals, violent offenders to buy their way out of jail. If people are a threat to the community then they should be detained pre-trial," said Alt.

Arguing in favor of including the consideration of public safety in bail statute was Attorney General Dave Yost (R-Ohio) who said, "By sending unambiguous language to Ohioans that public safety and other considerations must be included when determining bail, Ohioans can definitively instruct the court with their votes about their desire for public safety to be restored to the bail analysis."

The proposed constitutional amendment is a response to a recent Ohio Supreme Court ruling.

In the case, DuBose v. McGuffey, the court ruled in a 4-3 decision that public safety should not be a consideration when determining bail because the state already has a different procedure in which public safety is used as a factor for release.

The resolution was originally scheduled for a House floor vote Wednesday but House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) said the measure will stay in committee for further consideration.

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