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Your Columbus Criminal Case: The Basics

It's Saturday night and your co-workers invited you to the monthly Gallery Hop in the Short North. There should be plenty of culture, art, and improvisational dance troupes to keep you entertained for a few hours.

You realize you are running really late. You zoom down Goodale Street, hoping to find parking. Without checking your mirrors, you veer into right lane to snag the only parking spot left. Suddenly, you hear a scream. You can't believe you just hit a cyclist. He's lying on the ground. You panic and drive away.

Next thing you know, you see lights and sirens. The police pull you over and you're arrested for hit-and-run.

Since arrests occur in so many different situations, it is difficult to predict exactly what will happen. This article provides general information about what to expect in most cases if you are arrested in the "Arch City."

The Arrest

Your arrest marks the beginning of your entrance into the Ohio criminal justice system. You'll have contact with one of the following: Columbus Division Police, the Ohio State Highway Patrol, or the Franklin County Sheriff.

There are several rules that the police must follow. If they neglect to follow these rules, it could jeopardize the state's case against you.

You should be read your Miranda rights. You've heard the words, "You have the right to remain silent, you have the right to an attorney..." Then, the police have two options: take you to jail for booking or release you with a promise to appear at a later date. If you're taken into custody, you'll likely become a short-term resident at the Franklin County Jail.

If you want to go home, you'll either be released on your own recognizance or you'll have to post bail. Bail is money that you have to pay in order to be released from jail pending trial. You usually have to put up 10% of the total amount of bail the judge sets in your case in order to get out.

Arraignment

Next, you'll be arraigned at one of the courts in the area. When you first go in front of a judge you may feel quite intimidated, particularly if this is your first time in the system. The judge will officially read the charges against you and may readjust your bail. You'll also enter a plea of guilty, no contest, or not guilty. If you plead not guilty, you will have the option of hiring a lawyer, representing yourself, or asking for a public defender.

What happens next depends on whether you are accused of committing an infraction, misdemeanor, or felony.

Infraction

This is not what've you've seen on "Law and Order" or in the movies An infraction is a minor offense and includes such violations as traffic, wildlife, boating, jaywalking, or leaving your litter on the lawn after a concert at the Statehouse. The officer will issue you a citation stating you'll have to appear in court. If convicted, you can't be sentenced to jail - a fine is the maximum punishment allowed. You may challenge your ticket or plead guilty to the charges. In some instances, you can simply pay the fine online or by mail.

Misdemeanor Cases

Misdemeanors are less serious crimes, but take note, a conviction or guilty plea can have consequences on your career, your educational opportunities, and your freedom. If you are a non-citizen, a misdemeanor can impact your immigration status.

Misdemeanors range in seriousness with 1st Degree being the worst. Common Ohio misdemeanors include minor drug possession, petty theft, assault and/or battery, resisting arrest, certain traffic offenses such a hit-and-run, check fraud, some domestic violence, resisting arrest and driving under the influence (DUI) offenses.

If you go to trial, twelve randomly selected members of the community will decide your guilt or innocence. If the jury finds you not guilty, the case ends and you may go free. If you're convicted, the judge will impose a sentence.

The maximum punishment you'll receive if convicted is up to six months in county jail and a maximum fine of up to $1000. Some crimes carry additional penalties such mandatory counseling or substance abuse classes.

Felony Cases

Felonies are serious crimes that carry huge penalties including years of prison time, large fines, and major repercussions for the rest of your life. Typical felonies include robbery, murder, rape, forgery, fraud or possession of illegal drugs for sale.

Preliminary Hearing or Grand Jury

If your case doesn't resolve, you'll have either a preliminary hearing or a grand jury hearing. If your case goes to a preliminary hearing, a judge will hear the evidence and determine if there's probable cause to believe you have committed the offense. If the judge "holds you to answer" for the charges, she'll set a trial date and you'll be arraigned again. If it's a grand jury, a majority of the panel must believe sufficient evidence is present to return an indictment (formal charge) to the court.

Pretrial

The next stage in a felony is the pretrial conference. The prosecutor and defense attorney meet in the judge's chambers to discuss your case and sometimes enter a plea bargain. Pretrial gives your attorney an opportunity to gather information from the prosecution, explore that evidence, and possibly resolve your case without a trial.

Trial

If you go to trial, the prosecution must prove you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

You automatically have the right to a jury trial where twelve randomly selected members of the community decide your guilt or innocence. Both the prosecutor and defense will present evidence. Remember, you can't be compelled to testify. If the jury finds you guilty, the judge will sentence you.

Criminal cases can have a serious, lasting impact on your life. You have options and rights. If the State does not have sufficient evidence to prove that you committed an offense, you may be entitled to a dismissal or a reduction in your charge. Similarly, if the State violated your civil rights during the investigation or prosecution of your case, a judge may suppress certain evidence, meaning the State can't use the evidence against you at trial. Anyone charged with an offense should at least consider consulting a skilled attorney.

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