Excessive punishments and overly harsh sentences are an outcome of intentional proliferation of criminal laws in Ohio. The clearest example is how Ohio’s felony sentencing laws have changed since the mid-1970s, at which time Ohio’s criminal statutes contained 146 felonies, 50 which were drug related. Today, criminal statutes list more than 750 felony offenses, 200 which are drug related.
The explosion of criminal offenses, often creating new offenses for already illicit behavior, is coupled with a constant ratcheting up of penalties despite no evidence of deterrence. What was once a criminal misdemeanor is now a felony. What was once a felony of the fifth degree is now a felony of the second degree with a mandatory prison term. Ohio is left with hundreds more criminal offenses carrying longer prison sentences.
Ohio needs second look legislation
Second look, or prosecutor-initiated resentencing, allows a court to take a fresh look at a person who has been incarcerated for a significant period of years. It’s an opportunity for the court to modify a sentence, if appropriate, so that the incarcerated individual has a path out of incarceration.
Second look can be a valuable tool for Ohio’s judges to revisit antiquated and unfair sentencing practices of the past. Second look legislation can also be a safeguard against sentences that become excessive as a result of how criminal charges are filed by prosecutors.
Susan Gwynn example
In 2016, a 55-year old woman with no criminal record, Susan Gwynne, was sentenced to 65 years for theft. Gwynne used her position as a nurse aide to enter a dozen facilities to steal photos, jewelry and other property belonging to residents.
Prosecutors charged Gwynne, a woman with mental illness, with 101 counts of theft and burglary but later reduced the charges to 46 counts in a plea deal. The judge in the case had the discretion to sentence Gwynne to a range that included probation on one end and decades in prison on the other. The judge sentenced Gwynne to 65 years, or until she reaches the age of 120.
Ohio law (ORC 2929.41 A) makes concurrent sentences (sentences run at the same time) the norm, but judges can stack sentences (run consecutively) if certain findings are made (ORC 2929.14 C(4)) including consecutive sentences are necessary to protect the public from future crime or to punish for the seriousness of the offense and danger posed.
The resulting 65-year sentence in the Gwynne case shocks the conscious, yet it is the outcome perfectly designed by the structure of Ohio law.