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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — One of the ballot initiatives in front of Ohio voters Nov. 8 will ask whether judges should have to consider public safety when setting bail for people facing criminal charges.

Issue 1 seeks to enshrine in the Ohio Constitution a judge’s authority to consider certain public-safety factors when determining bail. The proposed amendment stems from an Ohio Supreme Court ruling in early 2022, and although supporters say Issue 1 aims to return courtrooms to the status quo, opponents argue it looks at the purpose of bail incorrectly. 

DuBose v. McGuffey: How Issue 1 made it onto the ballot

In January, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that the initial $1.5 million bail set in a murder, burglary, and robbery case out of Cincinnati was “excessive.” 

Excessive bail violates both the U.S. and Ohio constitutions. 

The court, in its decision, said bail solely serves to ensure defendants return when they are due in court and that “public safety is not a consideration.”

Republican lawmakers — including Reps. Jeff LaRe (R-Violet Township) and D.J. Swearingen (R-Huron) — sought to reverse that decision, introducing a joint resolution in the Ohio House to get the constitutional amendment before voters. 

It passed the House in May and the Ohio Senate in June. 

According to the legislative text, “public safety” might include factors such as the risk an accused person might pose to the community, how serious the offense was, and whether they have a previous criminal record. 

The proposed amendment would:
• Require Ohio courts, when setting the amount of bail, to consider public safety, including the seriousness of the offense, as well as a person’s criminal record, the likelihood a person will return to court, and any other factor the Ohio General Assembly may prescribe.
• Remove the requirement that the procedures for establishing the amount and conditions of bail be determined by the Supreme Court of Ohio.

“All we’re trying to do is get things back to the way they were,” LaRe said. “This really comes down to public safety, and safety for our communities.”

Bail and varied efforts at reform: What proponents, opponents say

Generally, bail is the conditional release — financial or otherwise — of a person who is accused of a crime before their court date, with a promise to return to court.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters called Issue 1 “his baby” and said he believes it would deter Ohio from becoming a “wasteland of crime” by re-equipping judges with a tool to keep people who are potentially violent behind bars.

Gov. Mike DeWine told Fox News this week he supported Issue 1, and Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost has also voiced their support.

But opponents said it misses the mark.

“We don’t think Issue 1 is bail reform, whatsoever,” said Patrick Higgins, the American Civil Liberties Union Ohio Policy Counsel. “It entrenches a failed status quo in our state constitution.”

Piet Van Lier, a senior researcher for Policy Matters Ohio, said he believes Issue 1 was written to “intentionally mislead” Ohioans about broader conversations related to overhauling the state of bail. Van Lier said judges could instead deny bail entirely, which requires a hearing.

“We all want to be safe, right?” Van Lier said. “Cash bail was never about public safety.”

State Sen. Cecil Thomas (D-Cincinnati) and Rep. David Leland (D-Columbus) are also opposed, as is The Bail Project — an organization seeking to get rid of cash bail altogether — which called what is laid out in Issue 1 “a problem that does not exist.”  

A strong majority of Ohioans, or 82%, said in a recent Siena College poll they would vote for Issue 1 come Election Day. Eight percent said they would vote against it, and 10% said they didn’t know or declined to answer.

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