Your Cleveland Criminal Case: The Basics

You've grown up in Cleveland all your life and have fond memories of attending Indians games at the Jake. But the other day, someone who must have been new to the area starting going on and on about how much fun he had at Progressive field with his son, who was amazed at the large soda selection at the various concession stands. You tried to explain to them the long history behind the Indians and their old beloved owner Dick Jacobs, how the field used to be called Jacobs field, or "the Jake," in honor of the late Mr. Jacobs, and therefore it shall always and forever be known as "the Jake" regardless of whatever insurance company now sponsors the team. However, this new guy was completely unmoved and insisted on calling the ballpark by its corporate name. But then, he added the ultimate insult, and insisted that the sweet fizzy beverage served there was called soda and not pop.

Well, needless to say, a brawl broke out. Cops were called, and now both of you are facing criminal charges. Here's what you need to know about a Cleveland criminal case.

The Arrest

Most criminal cases begin when someone gets arrested for a crime. In order to properly arrest someone, the police must have a warrant or probable cause to believe they committed a crime. This means that the police must observe or learn about something from a reliable source that would indicate that the person under arrest actually committed the crime.

What happens immediately after the arrest depends on the crime. Most arrestees are taken to a local police station and booked. Then, for less severe cases, the arrestee may pay a fine and leave jail. If the case is more severe, a bail amount must be determined, and then someone has to come bail the person out of jail. Next up will be arraignment on the next available court date, as described below.

If the person getting arrested is issued a citation, then he may not need to go to the jail at all. Citations are more commonly known as tickets, and are often given for minor criminal infractions like speeding or jaywalking. The person who received the ticket simply pays the fine, which ends the criminal case. The citation will probably not show up on any major background checks, but may affect car insurance premiums.

Types of Criminal Cases

In Ohio, as in other states, criminal cases fall into a number of categories, depending on how severe the punishment for the crime is. These categories are: (1) felonies, which are more serious and can lead to a punishment exceeding 6 months in jail; (2) misdemeanors, which are relatively minor and have a maximum penalty of six months jail and/or $1,000 fine; and (3) minor misdemeanors which may lead to a $150 fine only.

Some minor misdemeanors may be solved in just one court appearance in which the defendant admits guilt and pays the fine. However, unlike a citation, that guilty plea will show up in some criminal background checks and may affect future job applications. If you have any questions about how a guilty plea will affect other areas of your life, be sure to consult with a local criminal defense attorney.

Arraignment

The first time most criminal defendants come into a court is for their arraignment, during which the prosecutor reads the charges against the defendant and the defendant has an opportunity to plead guilty or not guilty. If the defendant pleads not guilty, a trial date will be scheduled and both sides begin preparations. If the defendant pleads guilty, the court skips straight to sentencing.

At any point during the trial process, the defendant can negotiate with the prosecution and work out a plea deal. Defendants who enter plea deals often plead guilty to the offense (or a lesser offense) in exchange for a lighter punishment than they are likely to get at trial. Sometimes alternate sentences are available which can lead to a complete dismissal of the case. For example, people arrested for an OVI (Operating a Vehicle under the Influence) may be eligible for a diversion program, in which they attend classes on alcohol addiction and submit to drug testing instead of serving a prison sentence.

Trial

If a defendant enters a not guilty plea, the trial process begins. Most full-blown criminal trials are for serious crimes with serious punishment. Because the stakes are so high and the details of the process can be confusing, a criminal defense attorney can be a big help. Every criminal defendant has the right to an attorney, so if you cannot afford one, you can contact the Cuyahoga County office of the public defender to learn how to get an attorney for free. You can also find a private criminal defense attorney with our help.

Before the trial begins, both the defendant and the prosecution gather evidence about what happened, including a thorough review of the police reports, arrest records, and witness statements. Each side may file pre-trial motions to ensure that evidence obtained unlawfully remains out of the court, and to try and resolve some issues before the trial begins.

Trials for felonies take place in the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, while misdemeanors are handled by the Cleveland Municipal Court. Every defendant is entitled to a jury, but may choose to waive the right to jury and allow a judge to decide his case instead. Cases in which a judge decides the facts, known as "bench trials," often take less time and less money to complete, although jury trials may have some advantages. A criminal defense attorney can explain the pros and cons of each choice, keeping in mind the unique, specific circumstances of a particular case.

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