Get Out of Jail Free

Guest Contributor: Darceny Winston 

           Imagine playing Monopoly, but each player starts with a different amount of funds. You start the game, buy a property, then land on “Go to Jail”. You move your piece to that space then wait until your next turn to pay the $50 to get out of jail. Unfortunately, you started the game with only $50, which you already spent on your property, so you must sit in jail to figure out how to pay the “get out of jail” fee.  While sitting in jail, you cannot collect any payment from that property and in fact, you must sell your property to make enough money to get out of jail. However, the player who started with $100 and gets sent to jail has no issue leaving the jail quickly. Essentially, this is the inequality of monetary bail.

Freedom Should Not Be a Game of Chance

            Judges set bail to ensure people attend trial and to keep the public safe by keeping violent or repeat offenders in jail. However, when a judge sets a bond too high for a person to meet, that person is restrained in jail until his/her trial.  The people affected by monetary bail are awaiting trial; they have yet to go through a trial and be found guilty of the offense they were charged with. Rather, they are forced to wait in jail for their trial solely because they cannot afford to pay bail, all while they are presumed innocent.

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Source: Chris Potter/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

            Nationally, minorities are more likely to be arrested than white individuals because of over-policing in their communities. For example, once arrested, African Americans, particularly those 18 through 29, receive higher bond fees than white individuals. The higher likelihood of African Americans having contact with the justice system blended with the expectation to pay a higher bail fee results in an inequality of minorities being detained. A 2012 study discovered that the rate of African American individuals detained in jail until trial was almost five times higher than detained white individuals.

            According to a 2015 local news report, 51percent of inmates processed in the Hamilton County Justice Center in 2014 were African American. However, the number of arrestees is twice the amount of the African American population as a whole residing in Hamilton County. This implies that the African American community in Hamilton County is disproportionately affected by the justice system. Because African American individuals are more likely to be arrested and detained, their incarceration results in long term suffering for their families and communities. Incarceration leads to job loss, which leads to income loss, which leads to eviction, and even leads to losing custody of children.

            Cincinnati is making great strides in correcting the inequality of monetary bail. In April 2019, the Cincinnati City Council approved a motion eliminating city prosecutors from requesting monetary bail for non-violent misdemeanor offenders. While this was primarily enacted to eliminate wealth as a factor in determining who is detained in jail, there was also motivation to conserve financial resources as the Ohio Justice and Policy Center discovered that incarcerating one person at the Hamilton County Justice Center costs about $69 per day.

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Source: Fandom

            Before the motion was passed, about 75percent of people arrested were forced to wait for their trial in the Hamilton County Justice Center solely because they could not afford to pay bail. City Council, led by Councilmember P.G. Sittenfeld, shifted from monetary bonds by instructing city prosecutors to seek an “own recognizance” bond that allows individuals accused of non-violent misdemeanor offenses to leave jail before trial without being subjected to a bond fee.

One Man’s Low Bail is Another Man’s High Bail

            The reform effort is not without push-back from the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office. Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters does not believe there is a need for a bail reform effort in the county court system and is “baffled why people continue to argue that bail reform is an issue in Hamilton County.” The Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office agrees that non-violent misdemeanor offenders do not always need to be held before trial and releasing these individuals before trial saves taxpayer money. However, the Prosecutor’s Office has discretion in seeking bonds when necessary, such as to ensure the arrestee attends trial or to protect the community. While the Prosecutor’s Office may only suggest high bonds when it is necessary, the Prosecutor’s Office is assuming the low bonds recommended are, in fact, low. By not taking into account an individual’s socio-economic status, the Prosecutor’s Office recommendation of a $1,000 bond with the requirement that $100 must be paid before leaving is effectively the same as a $100,000 bond with a requirement of a payment of $1,000 for members of low-income communities.

            The Hamilton County Public Defender’s Office realizes it is not enough to require the city prosecutor to release non-violent misdemeanor offenders without imposing monetary bail. Rather, there needs to be a complete bail reform extending to the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office. Since the county is not currently required to release non-violent misdemeanor offenders on their own recognizance, the Public Defender’s Office is urging the judges setting bail to consider not only the likelihood of an arrestee reoffending, but also the individual’s ability to pay when determining the bail amount. If an individual does not have an income or has a low income, requiring him or her to pay any fee in order to be released would constitute excessive bail under the Eighth Amendment. Therefore, the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office should adopt a blanket policy that allows for releasing non-violent misdemeanor offenders.

Goals for the Future

            While Cincinnati as a city is taking steps in improving the bail system to be less centered on a person’s wealth, there are still improvements that can be made in Hamilton County. Leading the way in improving the bail system on a national level is Harris County, Texas. In 2018, Harris County became the first case to question the cash bail system in federal courts. Harris County was using a fee schedule system to set bail based on the charge. A woman filed a lawsuit against Harris County claiming that using a fee schedule in determining her bail amount violated her due process and equal protection rights because this process allowed those who could afford bail to pay and punished those who could not. The court determined the fee schedule was unconstitutional because it discriminated against misdemeanor defendants who could not afford to pay their bail. Harris County is now implementing a policy of automatic release of low-level misdemeanor detainees, as well as providing resources to them while they await their court date, such as reminders of when they must appear in court chance-card-vintage-monopoly-get-out-of-jail-free-design-turnpikeand transportation support services.

The City of Cincinnati is working to make arraignments fair for individuals of all socio-economic backgrounds. However, Hamilton County needs to recognize the inherent discriminatory issues with monetary bail, take a lesson from Harris County, Texas, and allow all non-violent misdemeanor arrestees a “get out of jail free” card, rather than the select few who can afford it.

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Darceny Winston is a 2L at the University of Cincinnati College of Law. She has a passion for criminal defense and is currently a fellow for the Ohio Innocence Project and an executive member of the Criminal Law Society. Though originally from Louisiana, she now resides in Northern Kentucky with her 2 cats.

 

With Great Discretion Comes Great Responsibility.

Brady Violations in the Story of Michael Sutton’s Wrongful Conviction.

Nikita Srivastava (’19)

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Michael Sutton with his sister, Lucretia Sutton.  

Do you remember the day you finished high school? I want you to go back to that time. Imagine, you’re 17 years old again: You’re hanging out with your friends; you’re excited about the end of high school and the start of a new beginning.  Days before your graduation, you go out with your closest friends and stay out all night. You dance, laugh, and celebrate the first steps to a bright new future. For most of us, that celebration night ends with hugging good-bye, quietly sneaking into our houses without waking up our parents, and sleeping in the next day. For most of us, it’s a great night. And, for most us, the night does not end with us being arrested for an attempted murder we did not commit. Unfortunately, that is what happened to Michael Sutton.

On the night he celebrated finishing high school, Michael found himself with three of his closest friends being arrested. Instead of hugging their friends goodnight and returning to the comforts of their home, Michael and his best friends spent the night in jail for a crime they did not commit. Instead of going off to college and getting his degree in business, Michael was sentenced to 41 years to life in prison.

Continue reading “With Great Discretion Comes Great Responsibility.”

Issue One: Light At The End of the Tunnel or a Risky Gamble?

Everyone agrees that we need to fight drug addiction in Ohio. The Cincinnati area has had some of the highest opioid overdoses and deaths in the country. There aren’t many local families that haven’t been touched by the opioid crisis in some manner, my own family included.On the ballot in 2018 in Ohio, there is a proposed amendment to the Ohio Constitution that would reduce the crime of possession of personal amounts of illegal substances to misdemeanors not resulting in jail terms. Additionally, the amendment would make it harder to incarcerate drug users on probation or parole for failing drug tests. This proposed amendment on the ballot is known as Issue One, and it has strong proponents and opponents.

Continue reading “Issue One: Light At The End of the Tunnel or a Risky Gamble?”

The Real Problem With Snitches: How Snitch Testimony Leads to Wrongful Convictions

The Karl and Wayne Story

Nikita Srivastava (’19)

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Karl Willis

Honest, kind, and passionate. These are only a few words I can use to describe Karl Willis and Wayne Braddy. Karl is a spiritual man who started a mentoring program called “Leave the Streets Behind.” The goal of this program is to help misguided young adults become healthy and productive citizens. Wayne, on the other hand, is a creative man who performs live music whenever he gets the chance. Both of these men jump at any opportunities to expand their education and help others. Karl and Wayne are warm, humble men who care about their families and communities. They share their joy with their loved ones; they want to help others; but, more importantly, they care about making a difference in their community. Where are they today?

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Wayne Braddy

Karl is currently housed at Allen Correctional Institution in Lima, Ohio, and Wayne is housed at North Central Correctional Complex in Marion, Ohio. Both are serving 23 years to life sentence for a murder they did not commit.

Continue reading “The Real Problem With Snitches: How Snitch Testimony Leads to Wrongful Convictions”

Innocence March: Recognizing the Wrongfully Convicted

Guest Contributor: Brian Howe

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Attorney Brian Howe with OIP fellow Nikita Srivastava (’19)

On March 24, 2018, more than five hundred men and women marched through Memphis Tennessee.  Most of them had spent a large part of their lives in prison– a combined 3,501 years among them– for crimes they did not commit.

The march was the closing event for the 2018 Innocence Network conference, a gathering of exonorees and lawyers working on behalf of those wrongfully convicted.  Exonorees came from every state in the country and from countries across the globe. They marched with attorneys and advocates and family. They held signs demanding change in the system that had wronged them.  Demanding accountability. Demanding, at least, public recognition that innocent men and women were being arrested and convicted by agents acting on the public’s behalf.

Continue reading “Innocence March: Recognizing the Wrongfully Convicted”

Ru-El Sailor Exonerated!

Finally home, finally free.

Nikita Srivastava (’19)

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Right after Ru-El Sailor’s release. Andrew Radin (’18), Ru-El Sailor, and Jennifer Bergeron.

Today Ru-El Sailor is a free man, after spending 15 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. Over the years, Sailor continuously maintained and fought to prove his innocence. Then, finally, on March 28, 2018, the Cuyahoga County Court vacated his sentence.

How Sailor got Wrongly Convicted

In November 2002, Sailor was hanging out with his friends at a bar on the East Side of Cleveland. Across town, Nicole and Cordell Hubbard got into a dispute with Omar Clark . The matter got out of hands – threats, guns, and then shots rang out, leaving Clark dead.  Cuyahoga County prosecutors roped in Sailor who Cordell Hubbard’s best friend at the time, wrongly believing that Sailor was the second man in this fatal shooting. Sailor testified that he was not the shooter nor was involved in this violent outburst. However, after a trial that included shady eye witness testimony that could not place Sailor at the scene, a jury still convicted Sailor. The court sentenced him to 28 years to life with the possibility of parole.

Continue reading “Ru-El Sailor Exonerated!”

Fighting the Good Fight

The Honorable Judge Shira Scheindlin

Nikita Srivastava (’19)

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Hon. Shira Scheindlin

Advocate. Lawyer. Engaged citizen.

These are only a few words Professor Janet Moore used to describe the Honorable Shira Scheindlin, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (ret.), this year’s Judge-in Residence at the University of Cincinnati College of Law.

I had the pleasure to attend her lecture on Race and Policing, and have lunch with her the following day. As a law student, I’ve always told myself that I will be the change I want to see to paraphrase Mathama Gandhi. But, like many other law school students, I get bogged down by the environment at the law school. I stress out most of the time. I don’t get enough sleep. I find myself comparing me to other people making me insecure. I constantly fight the urges to lash out because of insecurities. In just two years, I forgot why I wanted to be a lawyer. However, Judge Shira Scheindlin reminded me why I made that choice.

Continue reading “Fighting the Good Fight”

A Plea for More Gun Control

A Student’s Perspective on Gun Control.

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Jade Robinson (’20)

Guest Contributor, Jade Robinson (’20)

After the recent tragedy in Florida, we need to ask legislatures that if not now, then when? When will our legislature overpower the lobbyists and the NRA and create change in this nation’s gun control policy?

When my British family members came to the United States, their jaws dropped when we mentioned going to a shooting range for fun. In England, shooting ranges , like the ones in the United States, do not exist. In fact, the U.S. is the only industrialized country that has experienced multiple devastating mass shootings and extremely high firearm mortality rates; also, the U.S has passed no major federal legislation addressing this issue. Compared to other industrialized nations, America has a major unaddressed gun violence issue.

Continue reading “A Plea for More Gun Control”

Friends of the Court: Cincinnati Law students contribute to SCOTUS ruling

By Guest Contributors Francesca Boland(’19), David Wovrosh (’19), and Prof. Janet Moore 

On June 19, 2017, Cincinnati Law students saw their work cited in a 5-4 majority opinion of the United States Supreme Court. The case, McWilliams v. Dunn, resolved a lower courtdcsxxa-xoaafsoq split over what the Constitution requires when prosecutors seek to impose the death penalty against defendants who have mental illness, but cannot afford to hire mental health experts to present an effective defense.

First-year students researched the issue during the spring semester for an amicus brief filed by the National Association for Public Defense (NAPD). The Court cited that brief in holding that Alabama courts violated a right that was clearly established in its 1985 decision, Ake v. Oklahoma.  Continue reading “Friends of the Court: Cincinnati Law students contribute to SCOTUS ruling”

OJ Simpson Revisited

OJ Simpson’s parole hearing provides another opportunity to consider race in the criminal justice system.

Nikita Srivastava (’19)

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OJ Simpson

Former football player and Hollywood star, OJ Simpson will have a parole hearing on Thursday, July 20th, 2017. In December 2008, Simpson was convicted of robbery with a deadly weapon. He was sentenced to 33 years in prison with the possibility of parole in 6 years. This, of course, was not Simpson’s first encounter with the law. In 1994, a jury acquitted Simpson of the murders of Nicole Brown-Simpson and Ronald Goldman. His high profile case sparked a division on race relations in this nation.

Simpson’s parole hearing will occur when race remains a highly contested and hotly debated topic in this nation. As a result, it’s fitting to examine Joe’s Feagin concept of the white racial frame (WRF) helps us understand why Simpson and his legal issues embody issues of race. And, to watch the Oscar-winning documentary, OJ: Made in America, which brings these complicated issues to life. Continue reading “OJ Simpson Revisited”