1.) How do I get an Attorney?
The 6th Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees that every person who is financially unable to hire their own attorney must be provided with a competent attorney at the government's expense. The Ohio Constitution also explicitly affords the charged with an attorney in Article I, §10. Ohio defines a person who is financially unable to hire their own attorney to be indigent (Ohio Revised Code, Title 1, Chapter 120). In Hamilton County, the attorneys employed by the Office of the Public Defender represent a substantial percentage of persons who are determined to be indigent. The court also appoints attorneys engaged in the private practice of law to represent indigent persons who are charged with crimes and cannot afford to hire their own lawyer.
2.)What if I am able to Hire my own Attorney?
If you are financially able to hire your own attorney you are encouraged to do so immediately. Our services are limited to those who cannot afford counsel.
3.)What is an Initial Appearance?
If you are cited to court, your initial appearance will occur in either Room 263 or Room 121 at the Hamilton County Courthouse. If you are arrested, your initial appearance will occur within 48 hours of your arrest. At this appearance, the judge will determine whether or not there was sufficient probable cause for your arrest if you are charged with a FELONY. The judge decides if probable cause is satisfied from the allegations listed in the complaint. Generally, you will plead NOT GUILTY at this appearance, however, in limited circumstances it may be advantageous to plead NO CONTEST or GUILTY as charged after consulting with your attorney concerning the specifics of your case. If you plead NOT GUILTY, your case will be assigned to a trial judge who is responsible for the handling of your case until it is completed. If you were on probation at the time of your arraignment, it is likely that your case will be assigned to the same judge to whom you are on probation.
4.)What is Bail?
Bail is intended to guarantee that you will appear for your future scheduled court dates. if bond is posted and you fail to appear at your next court date, then the judge will issue a warrant ("capias") for your arrest. Also, if you fail to appear, then the bond will be subject to forfeiture.
The judge determines bail by considering:
1. the seriousness of the crime charged;
2. the evidence against the defendant;
3. the defendant's ties to the community;
4. and the character of the defendant.
If the judge sets an "O/R BOND," then you will be released from jail without having to pay any money. If the judge sets a "STANDARD BOND," then you will be able to post 10% of the bond amount and be released from jail. If the judge sets a "STRAIGHT BOND," then you are required to post the entire amount in order to be released. In some limited circumstances you may be held with "NO BOND." If you are unable to make bond then your lawyer may ask your assigned trial judge to lower the bond in an attempt to have you released from jail while your case is pending.
5.)What if I am on Probation or Parole?
If you are someone who is in jail as a suspected probation or parole violator, in addition to the new charges you are facing, it is likely that a holder has been placed on you at the request of the probation department or adult parole authority. In such situations, it is unlikely that you'll be released from jail until you have completed proceedings on the new charges and have dealt with the claimed violation at either a probation violation or parole revocation hearing.
6.) What is the Grand Jury?
Grand Jury is a review tribunal that decides whether or not there is sufficient probable cause that you have committed a felony. An indictment is a document that charges you with a felony. The indictment process is a secret proceeding in which the State presents evidence about your case before the Grand Jury. The Grand Jury hears evidence to decide whether or not to serve you with an indictment. You are not entitled to be present, confront witnesses against you, present evidence on your own behalf or have counsel present it during the Grand Jury process. The Grand Jury should indict you if it finds that there is probable cause to believe that a crime was committed by you. Once the Grand Jury has obtained the information it (or the prosecutor) thinks important, it will either choose or refuse to indict you.
7.)What are Misdemeanor Charges?
A misdemeanor is defined as a crime that is punishable by fine and/or imprisonment in a County jail for one year or less. Once a complaint has been filed, the first step in the criminal process is arraignment. This is usually the time the defendant first appears in court, is informed of the charges, and enters a plea. Your attorney will discuss the case with you, and a plea will be entered. The usual pleas are "NOT GUILTY," "GUILTY," or "NO CONTEST." If you have been charged for something you simply did not do -- or the charges are far more serious than the offense for which you are actually responsible -- or your attorney feels there is insufficient evidence to convict you, he or she might advise you to take the case to trial. In misdemeanor cases that are not likely to go to trial, it is not unusual for your attorney to settle the case on your behalf and with your consent, either at the initial appearance, or at a pretrial hearing which is usually held a couple of weeks later. Some misdemeanor cases settle for a fine and probation, without any jail time. However, some misdemeanor charges can carry a sentence of as much as one year in the county jail (a few have mandatory minimum jail sentences) as the possible punishment. Only by knowing the particular facts of your case, your prior criminal record, if any, and your current situation, is it possible to accurately predict how your case will settle. A misdemeanor case that is not going to be resolved with a plea must generally go to trial within 30 days if the defendant is out of custody. Cases are often continued to allow defense attorneys to gather the necessary evidence and interview any possible witnesses. Before trial, the defense attorney may make various motions, including a motion to suppress unlawfully obtained evidence by the police and motions for the prosecutor or the police to disclose evidence which might help the defense. An adult criminal defendant has the right to a trial by a jury. This is where 8 jurors, who are called "the finders of fact," listen to all the evidence presented by both the prosecution and the defense and decide what is proved and what is not. The judge's role in a jury trial is to make sure that both the prosecution and the defense adhere to all the rules of evidence when presenting their case to the jury. At trial, the prosecution must try to prove the client's guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. All 8 jurors must agree in order to either convict or acquit. If the jury cannot agree, a "mistrial" will be declared by the court, and the case:
1. may be tried again before a different jury;
2. may be dismissed;
3. or a case settlement may be agreed upon by the prosecution and the defense.
A defendant can also decide to have a judge hear the case, instead of a jury; this is called a "bench trial." For this to happen, the prosecution must also agree. In a bench trial, the prosecution still has to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, but this time the judge is the "finder of fact" and must decide whether or not the defendant is guilty, while also making certain that both attorneys are abiding by all the rules of evidence. If a defendant is found guilty, then the judge will then impose a sentence. The possible range of sentence, which is set by various laws, may range from no jail and probation to confinement in the county jail for up to one year. Defendants who have been convicted after a trial have the right to appeal their conviction. The process is started by the trial attorney who, upon request of the client, will file a notice of appeal in the trial court within 30 days of the imposition of sentence. A lawyer will then be appointed to handle your appeal.
8.)What are Felony Charges?
A felony is a serious criminal charge, which is defined in terms of possible punishment. The Ohio Revised Code (ORC) defines a felony as any offense where imprisonment for more than one year may be imposed.The first step in the criminal court process is called an initial appearance. Usually, this is the first time the defendant appears in court. The defendant then enters a plea of "GUILTY," "NOT GUILTY," or "NO CONTEST." Ordinarily your attorney will then enter a plea of "NOT GUILTY" on your behalf. If a "NOT GUILTY" plea is entered at this initial appearance, the case will then be scheduled for Grand Jury report date which is usually set no later than 10 court days after the initial appearance. If the Grand Jury indicts you, then you will be arraigned upon the indictment in Room 585 of the Hamilton County Courthouse. The case then moves to a trial court where the defendant is once again arraigned; however, this time a trial date is set. Generally speaking, the trial has to occur within 60 days from the date of this new arraignment, although felony cases frequently require more time so that the defense can conduct a complete, independent investigation, interview witnesses, consult with expert witnesses, and sift through all of the evidence presented by the Prosecutor.
The defense attorney may also make various motions in order to get the case dismissed on legal grounds, such as a motion to get certain evidence thrown out of court because the police acted improperly when seizing this evidence, or a motion to dismiss because the evidence presented at the preliminary hearing was not strong enough to warrant a trial. The defense might also make motions to force the Prosecutor or the police to disclose other pieces of evidence which could prove that the client is not guilty of the charge. While the case is ongoing, the defendant may decide he or she does not want to go to trial but wants to settle the matter. Just as often, a Prosecutor might offer the defendant a case settlement, referred to as a "plea bargain," to plead guilty to a less serious charge or agree to ask for reduced incarceration time at sentencing. Settlement may occur at any time, from the first court appearance at the initial arraignment up to, and even during, trial. Case settlement usually involves the defendant pleading "guilty" or "no contest" for an agreed sentence, to an agreed-upon charge, or to a maximum sentence.
An adult criminal defendant has the right to a trial by jury. This is where 12 jurors, who are called "the finders of fact," listen to all the evidence presented by both the prosecution and the defense and decide what is proved and what is not. The judge's job at a jury trial is to make sure that both the prosecution and the defense adhere to all the rules of evidence when presenting their case to the jury. At trial, the prosecution must try to prove the client's guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. All 12 jurors must agree in order to either convict or acquit. If the jury cannot agree, a "mistrial" will be declared by the court, and the case may be tried again before a different jury, it may be dismissed, or a case settlement may be agreed by the prosecution and the defense. A defendant can also decide to have a judge hear the case, instead of a jury; this is called a "bench trial." For this to happen, the prosecution must also agree. In a bench trial, the prosecution still has to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, but this time, the judge is the "finder of fact" and must decide whether or not the defendant is guilty, while also making certain that both attorneys are abiding by all the rules of evidence. If a defendant is found guilty, the judge will then impose a sentence. The possible range of sentence, which is set by various laws, may range from no jail and probation, to imprisonment in the state prison.
Sentencing can be a very complex process, depending on the severity of the crime for which the defendant has just been convicted. In the most serious of cases, referred to as special circumstance prosecutions, the defendant faces a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, or even the death penalty. If a defendant has been convicted of such an offense, then there is a separate proceeding, called a penalty phase, at which both sides present evidence either in aggravation or mitigation of penalty. The jury determines the appropriate penalty. If the jury determines that the defendant should be executed, the judge still has the power to overrule that determination and to sentence the defendant to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. However, if the jury agrees that life imprisonment is the appropriate punishment, the judge does not have the power to impose the death penalty. Defendants who have been convicted after a trial have the right to appeal their conviction. This process is started by the trial attorney who, upon request of the client, will file a notice of appeal in the trial court within 60 days of the imposition of sentence. A lawyer who specializes in appeals will then be appointed by the Court of Appeal to represent the defendant on appeal.
9.)When do I get to Speak to my Attorney?
In most instances, your assigned attorney will attempt to speak with you prior to your first appearance before the assigned trial judge. If you are in jail, your lawyer, time permitting, will come see you in person. If you are out on bond, the attorney may ask to speak with you in a face-to-face appointment. Most of our attorneys are typically in court between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 12:00 noon, Monday through Friday. When conducting trials, an attorney may be in court all day until well after 4:30 p.m. If you call our office wishing to speak with your attorney when he or she is in court or otherwise unavailable, you will be transferred to his or her voicemail. A receptionist answering our main number will be able to assist you with general information and can access your scheduled court dates, however, the receptionist does not possess information concerning the particulars of your case.
10.)What is Discovery?
Trial preparation takes place through a process called "discovery." Discovery is the exchange of information between the prosecution and the defense before trial. Generally, the prosecution has a duty to turn over to the defense, upon request, the details of any offenses charged, the names of witnesses who may testify at trial, other evidence that may support the charges, and any information that may disprove the charges. On the other hand, the defense must turn over to the prosecution, upon request, the names of defense witnesses who may testify at trial and the nature of the defense.
11.)Trial or Plea Agreement?
The decision on how to plead is up to you. Your attorney may negotiate with the prosecutor to try to resolve the case with the most favorable result. This does not mean that your attorney thinks you are guilty or that you are being encouraged to plead guilty. You have the right to be told all options available to you in order to make an informed decision. Your attorney has a duty to provide you with this ongoing information. If a plea agreement is not reached, then you will go to trial. Your innocence or guilt is determined at this stage. You are entitled to choose between a non-jury (bench) trial and a jury trial. You will decide on what type of trial and whether you wish to testify. Your attorney will advise you on these decisions, however, the decision is yours to make. The prosecution must prove your guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If the prosecution does not meet this burden, then you will be found not guilty and the case is completed.
12.)What is Sentencing?
If you are sentenced, your attorney will have an opportunity to speak on your behalf. You will also have an opportunity to speak at the sentencing hearing. You may be asked by the judge to speak at the sentencing phase, however, this is not required. You will consult with your attorney about speaking on your own behalf.
13.)What can I do to Help my Attorney Help me?
IIt is a good idea to provide your attorney with any potential witnesses that might be beneficial to your case. Please be prepared to provide the names, addresses and telephone numbers of such witnesses. Please do not discuss your case with anyone. This would most definitely include any law enforcement officer or prosecutor. Please do not discuss your case with fellow inmates if you are incarcerated. If so, you risk discussing your case with a confidential informant.