Bail battle escalates conflict between Republican leaders and Ohio Supreme Court
Debby Stokes-Wayne, a member of the Diocese’s Becoming Beloved Community Leadership Team, recently shared the news of Ohio’s bail reform bills HB 315 and SB 182 in this post. These bills would reduce the burden of pre-trial detention on poor people by requiring courts to make a pretrial-release decision within 24 hours. Any conditions on release must be non-monetary, such as a restraining order, and fit the danger the court determines that the defendant poses, such as domestic violence. If the court sets bond as a condition of release, the amount must be based on a determination of the accused person’s ability to pay.
But, in response to an Ohio Supreme Court 4-3 decision supporting a lower court’s ruling that the bond set for a Cincinnati murder suspect was too high, Republicans have introduced a proposed constitutional amendment bill, HB 607, that would require Ohio judges to consider criminal suspects’ threat to public safety when setting bail amounts. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost supports HB 607. You can contact the committee with your views by clicking on the pictures of each member at this link to get their contact information: https://www.ohiohouse.gov/committees/criminal-justice
Supporters of bail reform point out that cash bail does nothing to protect public safety. A wealthy man could walk out of jail after posting bail and murder his wife.
The proposed constitutional amendment – opposed both by the ACLU and the conservative Buckeye institute – is yet another battle between the Republican majority in the Ohio Legislature and the Ohio Supreme Court, where Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a Republican, has joined the three Democrats in several rulings including those finding four different sets of legislative maps unconstitutional. The Ohio Supreme Court decision affirmed that judges can protect public safety by setting other requirements, such as electronic monitoring and restraining orders, which were imposed by the lower court on the Cincinnati defendant.
Laura Bischoff quoted the majority opinion in her March 29 article in the Columbus Dispatch: “Public safety, although of the utmost importance, is not a factor relevant to the calculation of the bail amount,” the opinion says. “A court may not impose excessive bail for the purpose of keeping an accused in jail.”
“The ACLU of Ohio and the Buckeye Institute, a conservative think tank, both expressed concerns about proposed constitutional amendment,” she continued. “Buckeye Institute President Robert Alt called it a step in the wrong direction.
‘Ability to pay does not equate to public safety. If an individual is a threat to society, we should be giving judges the authority and the discretion to detain them pre-trial. We shouldn’t simply be increasing the price that they have to pay,’ Alt said.
“ACLU of Ohio lobbyist Gary Daniels said lawmakers should pass two other bail reform bills that would allow courts to make decisions based on flight risks or potential danger to the community, instead of how much money the accused has. ’These bills give judges and prosecutors the tools they need to protect public safety while honoring the presumption of innocence guaranteed to all of us,’ he said.”
HB 315 and SB 182 would mitigate the financial burden of bail and pretrial detention (which can cause poor people to lose their jobs and housing) on people who can’t afford to pay bail. The bills preserve Ohio’s process through which judges can keep the accused in jail if they pose a risk of violence. Here’s an overview of the bail reform prepared by the Ohio Judicial Conference.