Chief Justice Sounds Off On Bail Reform, Gun Background Checks Info In Annual Speech

Sep 12, 2019

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor talked about maintaining public trust in the judiciary, supporting sentencing reform, and keeping dockets moving with apps, texting and technology.

But O'Connor also sounded off on something she's talked about before, including earlier this year - bail reform. And in her State of the Judiciary speech, she said it’s long overdue, and that the current system flies in the face of the principle of “innocent until proven guilty”.

"In state after state, including ours, the majority of jail detainees have not been convicted of anything. They simply are waiting to have their case resolved. They can’t make bail. Some cannot come up with what you and I would consider a nominal sum," O'Connor said.

She added, "Bail is a concept to allow for release from detention while awaiting resolution of your case -- not as a means of keeping one in jail. Somehow, the concept has gotten backward."

On gun background checks, O’Connor told judges they should make sure important criminal information is available.

“We need for law enforcement to have access to criminal information, warrants, protection orders and probation and sentencing data. To serve our citizenry effectively, this data must be available on a fast and reliable basis. This is not happening in our state. But it must," O'Connor said.

She went on to say to the judges: “You’re issuing the warrant. It’s your work and it’s falling into a black hole. The system is breaking down after the information leaves your court.”

O’Connor noted that a recent study showed of the 217,000 warrants in the state database, only 8 percent had been entered by law enforcement into the federal one. She said judges need to work together better and pay attention to "the pleading of the public for action".

O'Connor also called on judges to continue to support whatever drug sentencing reform proposals come out in House Bill 1, which is being heard in the Senate. She had spoken out publicly against the drug sentencing proposal on last fall's ballot, saying she worried about the effect that constitutional amendment would have on drug courts and treatment.

O'Connor also called out courts for using apps, texting and technology to streamline workflow and keep dockets moving. And she praised a Supreme Court-backed documentary on drug courts and addiction called “Second Chances: One Year in Ohio’s Drug Courts", following 19 cases in three drug courts.