1.) How do I get a Public Defender?
We only represent indigent defendants (persons facing possible incarceration), as required by the U.S. and Ohio Constitutions and determined by eligibility guidelines established under Ohio law. You must apply at our 302 Main Street office (for felonies, juvenile and contempt cases) or Municipal Court office (for misdemeanors) to have your eligibility determined for us to represent you. Do not wait until your court date to apply as that may be too late or necessitate delay of your case.
2.) What if I am able to Hire my own Attorney?
3.) What is an Initial Appearance?
If you are arrested, your initial appearance will occur within 48 hours of your arrest. 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 as well as public safety. If bond is posted and you fail to appear at your next court date, then the judge will issue a warrant for your arrest. Also, if you fail to appear, then the bond could be subject to forfeiture and you could be charged with a new charge – the offense of Failure to Appear (a felony).
The judge determines bail by considering such factors as:
If the judge sets an “O.R. BOND,” then you will be released from jail without having to pay any money. Their may be a “cosigner” required, who is someone who also incurs the risk of paying the bond amount if you were to fail to appear. If the judge sets a “10% Bond,” then you will be able to post 10% of the bond amount and be released from jail. If the judge sets a “Cash, Professional or Real Estate Bond,” then you are required to post either the entire amount, secure a bondsman to post your bond or post security in the form of real estate in Clermont County with sufficient equity (twice the amount of the bond free and clear) in order to be released. In some limited circumstances you may be held with “NO BOND.”
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. No one is present except the Grand Jurors, the prosecutor, the witness and the court reporter. You are not entitled to be present, confront witnesses against you, present evidence on your own behalf or have counsel present 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. (This is a lower standard and different process than a jury trial, which is open to the public and has all of the above protections and where the jury must unanimously agree that the State has proven your guilt of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt for you to be convicted.) 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, 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. 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 evidence illegally obtained 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 (for a misdemeanor- 12 for a felony), 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 decide issues of law and 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 will try to prove the defendant is 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:
A case can also be tried to a judge only, instead of a jury; this is called a “bench trial.” 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 still deciding legal issues and making certain that both attorneys are abiding by all the rules of evidence. If a defendant is found guilty, then the judge will impose a sentence. The possible range of sentences, which is set by various laws, may range from no jail and probation to confinement in the county jail for up to one year.
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 arraignment. 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. 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 state and defendant may agree not to go to trial but to settle the matter by a plea agreement. Sometimes, this is the best option to limit your exposure to a longer sentence or conviction of more serious charges.
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 decide legal issues and 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 will try to prove your guilt 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 case can also be decided by the judge only hearing the case, instead of a jury; this is called a “bench trial.” 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 deciding legal issues and 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, the defendant faces a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, or even the death penalty. In a death penalty case, 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 30 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, information such as 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. Similarly, the defense must turn over to the prosecution, upon request, such things as the names of defense witnesses who may testify at trial and evidence to be used.
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. Proof of your 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, and you should listen carefully to their advice, 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?
It 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. Likewise, be aware that the phone calls in the jail are recorded and frequently, listened to by the prosecutors, with the exception of any calls with your attorney. Please do not discuss your case with fellow inmates if you are incarcerated. If so, you risk discussing your case with a confidential informant.
14). What if I’m Unhappy with my Attorney?
You are entitled to be represented well by competent, zealous counsel and our attorneys take that role seriously. Unless you hire an attorney, however, you are not entitled to the attorney of your choice. Sometimes, even the best attorney cannot avoid negative consequences from your charges. Also, it is part of your lawyer’s duty to inform you of the possible results and other factors related to your case – and sometimes that means they will be the bearer of bad news. In that event, remember that your attorney is not the cause of these consequences but the messenger, and your advocate, whose role is to help you obtain the best outcome within the bounds of the law. Many times complaints about attorneys are resolved by communicating frankly your questions or concerns with them. Please note that our attorneys are very busy with several clients and therefore, may not be able to get back with you immediately or always be accessible. However, part of their job is to discuss your case with you and answer your questions. If that has been attempted and you still have complaints about your representation, send an email to the attention of W. Stephen Haynes, Director, at the email link below or mail a letter to his attention at the main office address setting out your concerns or questions.
The Clermont County Public Defender Commission is a five-member board appointed by the County Commissioners and Common Pleas Court for the purpose of overseeing the Office of the Clermont County Public Defender. The Commission meets at least quarterly, and may meet at other times pursuant to the call of the Chairman or Director of the County Public Defender’s Office. If you have any questions regarding the Clermont County Public Defender Commission, please contact our office.
Commission’s Next Meeting Date: Wednesday, December 11, 2019
Time: 8 a.m.
Location: Clermont County Public Defender’s Office, 302 E. Main St., Batavia, Ohio 45103