Mandatory sentencing came to Ohio, along with most of the nation, in the 1970s in response to what was perceived to be a growing crime and drug epidemic. This “war on drugs” was designed to impose stiff penalties on dealers and users alike in the hopes it would deter others from joining the drug business, as well as, to remove serious offenders from the streets. The result of mandatory sentencing has been an explosion in the prison population of non-violent offenders, mostly those found in possession of drugs or those selling drugs. The numbers are staggering. Some 20.4 million Americans are incarcerated, a 500% increase over the past 30 years. As of April 2014, more people were in prison on drug related offenses than the total prison population for all offenses combined in 1980. The costs associated with housing inmates has also risen dramatically since the 1970s. On average, it now costs the government over $22.2 billion a year to house inmates in state and local penal institutions.
Ohio is one of the states that has undertaken significant reforms in felony sentencing. In 2011, Ohio introduced House Bill 86 aimed at reducing the amount Ohio spends on incarceration each year and it received wide bipartisan support. Then newly elected Governor, John Kasich, signed the bill into law in June 2011 saying the law was designed to give offenders who wanted to do better a second chance while punishing offenders who have shown they have no desire to change their ways. The main provisions of the law were designed to provide alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent, low level offenders and standardized the state’s probation and parole systems. It also provided for the possibility of judicial release after 80% of a term of incarceration has been met in certain instances and increased the amount of time prisoner’s may have taken off their sentences for participating in rehabilitative or educational programs within correctional facilities.
Now, judges in Ohio have greater discretion when fashioning sentences for felony offenders. However, there are some statutory restrictions on the sentence a judge may impose. Any sentence imposed by the judge must comply with the overriding purposes of felony sentencing which are protecting the public from future crime by the offender and others and punishing the offender using the minimum sanctions that the court determines accomplishes those purposes without imposing an unnecessary burden on state and local resources. O.R.C. 229.11(A). The sentencing statute provides a non-exhaustive list of factors that may make a particular offense more serious, such as; the victim of the offense suffered serious physical, psychological or economic harm as the result of the offense, and/or the offender committed the offense for hire or as part of an organized criminal activity. O.R.C. 2929.12(B). Conversely, the statute also provides a list of factors that may make the offender’s conduct less serious than that normally constituting the offense, such as; in committing the offense, the offender did not cause or expect to cause physical harm to any person or property. O.R.C. 2929.12(C).
One of the unfortunate trends we have seen in sentencing for drug cases is judges imposing a harsher sentence in a response to the heroin and opiate epidemic sweeping Ohio. Many judges feel an enhanced sentence is a necessary response to the growing number of overdoses occurring in their jurisdictions. Those who are selling drugs will often be sentenced to a send a message to other sellers in the area and to account for overdoses blamed on drugs. For example, at a recent sentencing, the judge imposed a sentence well over what the prosecutor had requested, because he felt drug dealers were essentially equivalent to murderers. He also stated that his purpose in imposing such a harsh sentence was to deter others who may consider selling drugs in his county.
Those who feel they have received an unjust sentence have the right to appeal it. Even if you entered a guilty plea, you have 30 days to file an appeal of the sentence. Normally, an appellate court will look to see if the judge abused his discretion when fashioning the sentence. A successful appeal is sent back to the trial court for resentencing. It is always important to retain an attorney who understand the sentencing process and can advocate for the possible sentence.
If you need a criminal defense lawyer or Federal defense attorney, call Attorney W. Joseph Edwards (614-309-0243) who has over 25 years experience representing clients in these legal matters.