Under Ohio law, victims of crimes have certain guaranteed rights under the Ohio Constitution and as provided by statute in the Ohio Revised Code. Section 10a of Article I: Bill of Rights of Constitution of the State of Ohio states, in pertinent part, the following: “Victims of criminal offenses shall be accorded fairness, dignity, and respect in the criminal justice process, and as the general assembly shall define and provide by law, shall be accorded rights to reasonable and appropriate notice, information, access, and protection and to a meaningful role in the criminal justice process..” This guide will advise you of some of those rights and outline the processes involved in the prosecution of felony and juvenile delinquency cases. All court proceedings such as bond hearings, preliminary hearings, arraignments, suppression hearings, change of plea hearings, and trials are open to the public, except some occasions in juvenile court, and a victim is entitled to be present at these hearings.
Contact Police and Victim Assistance
If you become a victim of crime, report the crime to the police. The sooner a crime is reported to the police, the greater the likelihood evidence can be collected in a timely fashion to build a case against the criminal. See “Law Enforcement Contacts” page for a listing of local law enforcement agencies in Seneca County.
You should also receive victim assistance information from a law enforcement officer about your rights as a victim. If the crime is a felony, a juvenile delinquency, or a misdemeanor in the Fostoria area as determined initially by a law enforcement officer, please contact the Seneca County Victim Assistance Program at 800-400-9900 for additional information about your rights as a victim. There is a 24 hour, on-call response service available through Seneca County Victim Assistance for victims of crime. If you suffered economic loss as a result of a criminal act, collect documentation such as unreimbursed medical bills or written estimates to repair damaged property to substantiate the loss.
If an adult is arrested and charged with a felony, the person will be brought before either Tiffin Municipal Court or Fostoria Municipal Court for an initial bond hearing on the felony arrest. A preliminary hearing held at a later date, ordinarily within ten to fifteen days, is scheduled to determine if there is probable cause for the felony charge to be bound over to Seneca County Common Pleas Court for grand jury consideration of formal felony charges. You have a right to be present at these municipal court hearings and you may be served a subpoena by a sheriff’s deputy if your testimony is necessary for a preliminary hearing to be conducted by a Tiffin or Fostoria city prosecutor. All juvenile delinquency detention hearings are held at Seneca County Juvenile Court in Tiffin and are handled by a county prosecutor. A victim advocate will be available, if necessary, to attend any of these court hearings with you.
Once an adult felony charge is bound over for the grand jury’s consideration, a county prosecutor will be assigned the case, and ordinarily the case will remain in Seneca County Common Pleas Court. You may receive a subpoena to appear and testify as a witness before the grand jury. As the victim, you can request notification upon an indictment being filed, which will occur after the accused is served with the charges in the indictment. You can also request notification if the grand jury declines to indict the accused of a felony charge or the case is transferred back to a municipal court based on misdemeanor charges. This notification is completed through the Seneca County Victim Assistance Program.
When the accused is an adult or a juvenile bound over and indicted to be prosecuted as an adult, the accused is served with a copy of an indictment containing one or more felony charges alleged to have been committed in Seneca County, and he or she will be required to appear as a defendant before the Common Pleas Court for a bond hearing and an arraignment. A new bond, either a cash or surety bond or a personal recognizance bond (also known as Own Recognizance or O.R. Bond) is set in the case. An O.R. Bond results in the defendant being released from custody upon signing documents promising to appear at all future hearings scheduled in Common Pleas Court. Conditions of bond, including no contact orders relating to victims, can be requested through a county prosecutor or victim advocate at the bond hearing. A cash or surety bond, typically ordered with a ten percent allowance, permits a defendant in custody to secure his release following the bond hearing by posting ten percent of the cash or surety amount set in the bond. For example, a cash or surety bond set at $10,000 with a ten percent allowance means a defendant or bail bondsman must post $1,000 in cash or surety to secure the release of the accused while the case is pending in court. A victim advocate will notify you about the bond hearing and will be present, whether or not you can make it to the hearing, and communicate the results of the bond hearing. The victim advocate can also provide you with information about being contacted if the defendant posts bond, securing his release from the county jail during the time the case is pending in court.
At the arraignment, the defendant enters an initial plea, typically not guilty, and usually appears with defense counsel present. A victim should try to be present particularly for the arraignment hearing because criminal defense attorneys often request that the Common Pleas Court reconsider the bond or conditions of the bond of the accused. A plea of not guilty at arraignment enables the accused, though his criminal defense attorney, to request discovery and learn about the evidence collected to substantiate the felony charge(s) the grand jury filed in the case. Again, a victim advocate will notify you about date and time of the arraignment and if at all possible, victims should be present at the arraignment hearing. Again, a victim’s presence at the arraignment may be important to a county prosecutor receiving helpful input about the type of bond, including any necessary conditions as part of the accused’s bond in a particular felony case.
These meetings, which are not open to the public, are held for the county prosecutor assigned to the case and the defense attorney to discuss the relative merits of the case, any legal issues which could impact resolving the case, and consider a proposed sentence recommendation to be presented to the court to resolve the case short of trial. A victim’s input about the impact of the crime and any thoughts about a possible resolution of the case short of a trial should be made known to the county prosecutor assigned to the case prior to these conferences. A victim advocate can assist in communicating a victim’s wishes and concerns about the case. It is the responsibility of the county prosecutor assigned to the case to decide what negotiations are entered into and the manner in which the prosecution of the case is handled. The case can be settled with a conviction, not necessitating a trial, as a result of a pretrial conference only if the accused agrees to waive his constitutional rights, including the right to a jury trial in adult cases, and enters a negotiated plea, usually a plea of guilty, to one or more charges in exchange for a joint recommendation presented to the court concerning an appropriate sentence given the facts and circumstances of the case and the defendant’s prior criminal history, if any exists. Although a victim is not the prosecutor’s client in a criminal case and is not present for pretrial discussions with defense attorneys and/or the defendant, the results of the pretrial can be made known to a victim who may wish to be present at the court, along with the assigned victim advocate, in order to be informed immediately about the status of the case. Documented estimates concerning amounts of restitution sought to be ordered should be available from the victim advocate for the county prosecutor to review with defense counsel at the pretrial conference.
A victim is entitled to be present at a suppression hearing or a change of plea hearing, which both occur in open court. At a suppression hearing, the defense challenges the prosecution’s evidence and whether or not law enforcement complied with legal rules in collecting evidence. A victim, along with a victim advocate, may be present in court during the hearing, which ordinarily involves testimony of witnesses, including police officers. If the motion to suppress is granted, evidence may be excluded from the county prosecutor’s case, which may impact whether the case can be proven at trial. If the motion is overruled, the evidence may be presented at trial to assist in proving the case.
A change of plea hearing
is when the accused, upon consulting
with his criminal defense attorney, decides
to change his plea from not guilty ordinarily
to a plea of guilty as part of an agreed
sentence recommendation to resolve the
case short of trial. The accused agrees
to waive his constitutional rights, including
his right to a jury trial in adult cases,
which will result in a criminal conviction.
The court is required to inform the accused
of the rights being waived and ensure
that the change of plea is voluntary.
A victim should be present in court for
this hearing, along with a victim advocate.
The court may ask whether the victim
has been consulted about the change of
plea and the sentence recommendation
agreed upon between the parties to the
case. A pre-sentence investigative report
may be ordered, which provides the court
with background information about the
accused and the crime committed for purposes
of the court considering the appropriate
sentence to be ordered in the case.
A sentencing hearing may take place at
a change of plea hearing if prison is
jointly recommended between the parties
in the case. This is why it is important
that a victim be present in order to
speak to the court if a sentencing takes
place immediately following the defendant’s
change of plea.
A victim has the right to be present at a trial and likely will be called as a witness in the State’s presentation of evidence. A separation of witnesses order, however, may prevent a victim from being present in the courtroom during testimony heard before the victim testifies, in order to prevent a possible claim that the victim tailored his or her testimony by hearing the testimony of other witnesses before testifying in court. Once a victim has testified, a victim ordinarily can be present in court to hear the testimony of other witnesses and closing arguments, as long as the victim does not disrupt the proceedings in some way.
A victim also is entitled to be present to hear the verdict of the jury read in open court and upon a finding of guilty, be present for sentencing, which could take place immediately or at another date and time for purposes of the court reviewing a pre-sentence investigative report about the defendant’s background. A victim should be prepared to make a statement in open court, either written or verbal, about the impact of the crime upon the victim. A victim advocate can assist in reviewing a planned victim statement in open court, along with providing assistance in completing a written victim impact statement submitted directly to the court for purposes of the court’s consideration as part of the sentencing. Ultimately, the court determines the appropriate penalty or sentence to be given in a particular case upon reviewing sentencing legal guidelines and determining factors present in a specific case, depending upon the type and degree of the crime committed. If an accused was found guilty as a result of a trial, he has a constitutional right to appeal his conviction.
A restitution order ordinarily is included in the sentencing order. All documented economic loss such as loss of income due to lost time at work because of any injury caused to the victim, and any property loss, medical cost, or funeral expense incurred as a result of the commission of the offense may be submitted to the court to determine restitution. The Ohio Victims of Crime Act allows certain claimants, including crime victims, to apply for an award of reparations for economic loss suffered as a result of criminal acts. This law helps innocent claimants, including victims of violent crime, recover economic losses as long as applicants timely and appropriately apply for compensation and meet certain eligibility requirements. For more information on filing a reparations application, contact the Seneca County Victim Assistance Program at its toll-free number (1-800-400-9900), its local number (419-448-5070), or the Ohio Court of Claims at its toll-free number (1-800-824-8263).
Post-conviction hearings include a direct appeal of a conviction, a judicial release hearing, and other possible hearings, including community control violation hearings. If a convicted criminal files a direct appeal upon being found guilty at trial, a victim has a right to be present at the oral arguments on the appeal in Lima, Ohio where the Third District Court of Appeals is located, and be informed of the outcome of the appeal. An appeal which results in a judgment of conviction being affirmed upholds the trial court’s proceedings and its sentencing order. An appeal which results in a reversal of the conviction means there was a significant error in the lower court proceedings which may allow for a retrial.
A judicial release hearing is when a defendant who has been convicted of a felony and sentenced to prison requests that the court release him from prison on a term of community control. If the court is considering granting early release, a hearing in open court must be held and the victim is entitled to be present and provide input to the court on whether or not the court should grant early release from prison on community control. A defendant is ineligible for judicial release if a mandatory prison sentence was imposed at sentencing. A defendant generally may request judicial release, however, if he has served at least six months in prison for a first, second, or third degree felony for which he was sentenced to a prison term of less than 5 years, or he has served at least thirty days in prison for a fourth or fifth degree felony. The decision to grant or deny judicial release is made by the court, upon reviewing legal guidelines and evaluating factors present in a specific case, including any agreed upon sentence recommendation. A crime victim or other interested person may access information on the sentence and possible release date of an imprisoned defendant by visiting the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction website or contacting the Seneca County Victim Assistance Program.
Other post-conviction hearings may involve notice to a victim. Notice to a victim of an upcoming parole hearing and contact information to send communication to the parole board is regularly given through the county prosecutor’s office or victim assistance program for serious felony offenses such as Aggravated Murder, Murder, and crimes committed and sentenced prior to the new sentencing laws which became effective July 1, 1996. A community control violation may involve victim notification, particularly if the nature of the alleged violation relates to the victim. A victim may receive a subpoena to testify at a revocation hearing. The Tiffin Office of the Ohio Adult Parole Authority ordinarily provides input to the county prosecutor’s office and the court about appropriate punishment or rehabilitation sanctions in the event the court finds that a defendant violated his or her terms of community control.