Justice and how Ohio’s bail system works

Mike Daugherty - Contributing columnist

Recently, right here in Clinton County, a local person heard a knock on the door. When they answered, they met the Special Response Team of our local police department.

The team was there to execute a search warrant. They searched the home, gathered evidence, and charged the resident with a serious crime. That very day, the person went to jail.

The next morning the person appeared in court. Well, they actually went to the video room at the jail, and we held a hearing on closed circuit TV.

At the end of the hearing, the person was released on their “own recognizance.” That means the person got to leave the jail, but had to follow certain instructions and come back to court for a future hearing.

There was a time, not very long ago, when being arrested meant being kept in jail until your trial, unless you had a lot of money to post as bail. Even paying a bail bondsman cost a lot of money. Most of the time, bail was thousands of dollars, so the cost of a bond was pretty high.

Bail is governed by Criminal Rule 46. In 2020, the Ohio Supreme Court made some changes to that rule.

Most people don’t pay any attention when court rules change. This was the first time the rule had been revised since 2006, and it was a big change.

The rule now requires that a person charged with a crime must be released on the least restrictive conditions that will reasonably assure the person’s attendance. The default rule is a “personal bond” or what we often call an “O.R.” — own-recognizance bond.

In other words, the person gets out of jail without paying any money.

There are some reasons for this change. First, people are presumed innocent. We shouldn’t jail innocent people without a really good reason.

Have you ever watched the move “Judge Dredd”? In that movie, judges rode around on flying motorcycles. They acted as police, judges, and executioners, often shooting people on the spot.

I’m really glad that is not our justice system, although a flying motorcycle would be pretty cool.

We shouldn’t begin punishing a person based on the chance they might be found guilty later.

In many parts of the country, people sit in jail for months — sometimes years — waiting for their trial date.

In Clinton County, we work a whole lot faster than that. The other judges and I work hard to make sure that trials happen as soon as possible.

Being held in jail for even a short time can cost a person their job, their home, and custody of their children. As a community, we should want people to be responsible for their own families, housing, and employment.

Taking those things away from people places a huge burden on the rest of the community, and that burden can last a very long time.

The second reason the rule changed is because pretrial detention — keeping a person in jail before their trial — can coerce innocent people to just give up and plead guilty to something they didn’t do.

We call it the “justice” system because its goal should always be justice. Justice doesn’t demand that innocent people lie and say they are guilty just to get out of jail.

Remember, it is not the responsibility of the accused person to prove their innocence. The entire burden of proof must always be on the state. This is America. Better men than me died to protect that right.

The third reason is cost. It costs over $65 to house a person in our local jail for one day. That cost goes up a lot if they get sick, need prescription medications, or need a doctor appointment while in jail.

Keeping a person in jail for a month before their trial costs the taxpayers at least $2,000. Is that how you want to spend your tax money?

There are exceptions to the rule of personal bond. If the court is convinced that the person is not likely to return to court, they can be required to post a monetary bond in order to be released.

There are non-monetary conditions the judge can use, too. The court can prohibit them from going some places or doing some things, place them on house arrest or electronic monitoring, and can put them on a form of pretrial probation (sometimes called “bond diversion”).

If the person is charged with a serious offense and presents a significant danger to other people or to the community, they can be kept in jail without bail.

This doesn’t mean that people who are found guilty never go to jail. Our jail stays busy here in Clinton County. The majority of people there, however, have been found guilty and are serving a sentence.

That is the way it should be.

No person should be deprived of their liberty unless they are proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Mike Daugherty is Judge of the Clinton County Municipal Court.


Mike Daugherty

Contributing columnist