CLEVELAND — Issue 1, one of two statewide issues Ohioans voted on in the general election on Nov. 8, has passed by a comfortable margin. It requires judges to "consider public safety" along with other factors when setting bail.
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Sounds pretty simple, After all, who could argue against public safety as a consideration?
"The problem is that it's already under consideration," Andrea Whitaker, director of the Legal Defenders Office of Summit County, said in the weeks leading up to the election. "The problem is that it's a red herring."
Opponents argued that the issue's language is designed to distract voters from what they see as the greater concern of bail reform.
"People with money will be able to get out, people without money will stay incarcerated," added Whitaker. "And it doesn't address really who is a risk to the public."
So, what is bail? Also called bond, it's an amount of money given to the court for the temporary release of a defendant to ensure that the defendant returns to court.
"People that we consider to be a danger to the community -- they shouldn't get bail, said Whitaker. "The courts now have that ability to keep them in custody, based on that concern, she said.
The campaign for Issue 1 began following a 4-3 Ohio Supreme Court ruling in January. After a $1.5-million bond was set for a murder suspect, the court ruled that the high bail was unconstitutional, writing, "A court may not impose excessive bail for the purpose of keeping an accused in jail."
"It was not common sense," declared Justice Pat Fischer before a small crowd of supporters of Issue 1.
Fischer and the other dissenting Republican justices joined a statewide bus tour to campaign for Issue 1, making a stop at the Cleveland Police Patrolman's Association union hall last Friday.
"For 200 years, judges could consider public safety when setting bond, said Fischer. "And all of a sudden, four members of the court that I'm on said no -- Where'd that come from?"
Justice Pat DeWine, son of Governor Mike DeWine, said it's not that easy for judges to deny bail, even if they believe public safety is at risk.
"Only for certain felonies, with certain standards of proof can you hold someone without bail," said DeWine. "And that's appropriate in some situations, but there's other situations where judges want to set a higher bail, and judges in Ohio should have that flexibility."
While Issue 1 is a constitutional amendment in the name of public safety, it brought the battle over the intent and purpose of bail to the ballot box.
"We have a way to protect our community. and a monetary bond is not the way to do it," said Whitaker.
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