Shortened Prison Sentences Increase Due to COVID-19
In response to a growing number of COVID-19 cases among the incarcerated, Governor Mike DeWine and local judges have authorized the release of hundreds of inmates. Other inmates are turning to the courts themselves and asking to be let out early under Ohio’s judicial release law.
To help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, Ohio’s public health officials have issued orders to encourage social distancing. But in the state’s jails and prisons, where people are tightly packed into cells and dormitory-style housing, social distancing is nearly impossible, which makes incarceration a breeding ground for infections.
Ohio law provides judicial release and early release options for both misdemeanor and felony matters. To discuss those options with Graham & Graham’s criminal defense lawyers, please schedule a free consultation.
Flattening the Curve Through Early Release
The first confirmed case of coronavirus in Ohio’s correctional system occurred on April 3, 2020, at the Marion Correctional Facility, according to cincinnati.com That same day, Governor DeWine announced that that he would recommend the release of 38 inmates from the state’s prisons.
Mass testing later revealed that 73 percent of Marion’s inmate population was positive for coronavirus. At the time, WOSU reported that Ohio had the country’s largest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases behind bars. On April 13, the first confirmed Ohio inmate death from COVID-19 was recorded at the Pickaway Correctional Institute. Two days later, DeWine approved the release of 105 additional inmates.
5,000 Ohio Inmates Test Positive for COVID-19.
Recent data from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation & Correction shows that approximately 5,000 Ohio inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus. Statewide, there have been more than 70 confirmed inmate deaths from COVID-19.
Individually Petitioning the Court Under Ohio’s Judicial Release Law
Ohio law allows eligible prisoners who have served part of their sentence to petition the court for early release. Typically, a judicial release request is made based on an inmate’s good behavior, or a strong support structure awaiting them on the outside. But during the coronavirus outbreak, inmates are using the threat of infection to justify a judicial release.
April Howard, who suffers from severe asthma and respiratory issues, is serving a six-month prison sentence for a fourth-degree felony drug trafficking conviction. Filing for judicial release, she told the court, “I do not want the remainder of this prison sentence to be a death sentence.” (Source: Marion Star)
Before filing a motion for judicial release, the inmate first must qualify as an “eligible offender.”
Assuming that criteria are met; the eligible offender may file for judicial release within the following applicable periods (note that eligibility does not begin until the inmate is delivered to a state correctional institution):
- If the non-mandatory prison term is less than two years, any time after the offender is delivered to a state correctional institution.
- If the non-mandatory prison term is at least two years but less than five years, no earlier than 180 days.
- If the non-mandatory prison term is five years, no earlier than four years.
- If the non-mandatory prison term is more than five years but less than 10 years, no earlier than five years.
- If the non-mandatory prison term is more than ten years, after the defendant has served half of the term.
The above applies to Ohio felonies—not misdemeanors. Only felonies can result in prison time. Misdemeanors, at worst, result in jail time.
To gain release from a county jail for a misdemeanor offense, it’s possible to file a court motion requesting early release. In Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County jail, around 900 inmates were released over a two-month period during the pandemic. The inmates released were low-level, non-violent offenders awaiting trial or close to their release dates. In some cases, judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys worked out plea deals during initial hearings.
Discuss Your Legal Options with an Ohio Criminal Defense Lawyer
The current coronavirus is an unprecedented public health crisis that is causing many jurisdictions to rethink criminal sentences. Whether serving time for a felony or a misdemeanor, it may be possible to shorten the sentence. Even if the case is pending, one can advocate for no jail/prison time—especially for those in a coronavirus high risk category.
A qualified, experienced criminal defense lawyer can be the difference between gaining early release and having your application denied.
Serving all of Ohio, Graham & Graham is ready to advocate for your rights and obtain the best outcome. Call 1-800-621-8585 or Contact Us for a free consultation and to find out if you meet the criteria for an eligible offender.