Ohio bail amendment debate heats up as lawmakers roast Deters for ‘fear-mongering’

State Sen. Cecil Thomas openly mocked Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters in a statement Friday.
Hamilton County Courthouse/file photo
Hamilton County Courthouse/file photo
Published: May. 27, 2022 at 5:25 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - An Ohio constitutional amendment is heading to voters in November, and at least one local lawmaker says it’s a bad idea.

The amendment changing the way judges set monetary bail would pave an unnecessary shortcut for lazy prosecutors to deny defendants due process, according to State Sen. Cecil Thomas (D-Cincinnati).

Thomas pulled no punches Friday responding to Wednesday’s passage in the Ohio legislature of joint resolutions sending the amendment to voters.

The amendment would require state judges to consider public safety when setting dollar amounts for bail, but Thomas says both judges and prosecutors already have tools to do that.

“Good prosecutors in Ohio already know how to keep dangerous suspects in jail pending trial,” Thomas said. “They request a detention hearing and present evidence about the risk to public safety. This ensures that before denying a person who is still considered innocent their freedom, due process rights must be respected and enforced. A judge can also decide to hold a defendant without bail.

“Of course, Prosecutor Deters would prefer to skip due process altogether. He would rather request excessive bail – which is unconstitutional – without having to provide any evidence at a detention hearing because doing so would entail doing actual work.

Said State Rep. Jessica Miranda (D-Forest Park), who also voted against the resolution, “Deters and his colleagues are playing into people’s fears rather than focusing on reforms that will actually make our state safer.”

Miranda’s full statement can be found at the end of this story.

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The Ohio criminal code spells out—and the Ohio Supreme Court has affirmed—that bail exists purely to ensure a defendant’s attendance in court. Judges can consider public safety when setting bail conditions such as travel restrictions or ankle monitors, but the Court has ruled judges cannot set unreasonably high bail amounts that “everyone knows the defendant cannot afford” and that are “tantamount to a denial of bail[...]”

The Ohio Constitution triggers automatic detention without bail for defendants charged with capital offenses. A detention hearing is required to hold a defendant without bail when charged with a specific set of other offenses. The burden is on the prosecutor to sufficiently demonstrate that the defendant committed the crime and poses a substantial risk to public safety and that no release conditions can reasonably protect the community.

The amendment would require judges to consider public safety at the preliminary bond hearing, greatly expanding the situations where public safety comes into play and vaulting it to the beginning of the judicial process.

Hamilton County Joe Deters has been one of the amendment’s most ardent supporters. He prosecuted a case that rose to the Ohio Supreme Court earlier this year—Dubose v. McGuffey—where the Court ruled a defendant’s bail was set excessively high after the judge improperly considered safety concerns voiced by the defendant’s family.

“[Justin] Dubose’s counsel repeatedly proffered that neither Dubose nor his family can afford the $1.5 million bail, a point reiterated in the verified habeas filing before us,” the appeals court wrote. “The state has never contested this point or introduced contrary evidence, and, indeed, the thrust of its arguments at the bail hearings is that the bail must be so high that Dubose cannot get out.”

Deters said Wednesday Thomas and Miranda should be “ashamed” for voting against the joint resolutions.

Thomas countered Friday, “I voted against this resolution because it is based on fear-mongering and it is unnecessary. The law is clear that prosecutors have the right to provide evidence at a hearing and keep violent suspects in jail.

Thomas quotes Deters as having said, “Innocence doesn’t mean what you think it means because it doesn’t mean he didn’t do it.”

Responding to that quote, which he described as “telling,” Thomas posed, “What about the Constitutional guarantee that everyone is innocent until proven otherwise? If a prosecutor like Deters can’t provide sufficient evidence that someone is a flight risk at the detention hearing, and instead blatantly continues to ignore the U.S. and Ohio Constitutions, then maybe it’s time for him to retire.”

Miranda issued the following statement Saturday:

“I do not know why Deters chose to focus on Senator Thomas and my votes, especially when other members of the Southwest Ohio delegation - Representatives Kelly, Ingram and Denson - also voted against his attempt to make justice less equitable. In fact, this proposed constitutional amendment regarding cash bail reform is offensive to Ohio voters. It’s all smoke and mirrors from the GOP. They are ready to spend millions of dollars on a ballot initiative scheme in the name of bigotry and xenophobia to increase their voter turnout. Deters and his colleagues are playing into people’s fears rather than focusing on reforms that will actually make our state safer.

“Meanwhile, members of my party and I are fighting to keep our law enforcement - and our broader community - safe. We’re advocating for PTSD coverage, to ensure that people notify police officers when they are carrying a gun; we are trying to protect people’s lives. Instead, politicians like Deters are stoking the flames of hate and misinformation. Our law enforcement - our community - deserves better.

“As for bail reform, we could have had a real bipartisan solution through HB315, a bill sponsored by my colleagues Rep. David Leland (D) and Rep. Brett Hudson Hillyer (R). However, the majority party was never interested in doing the right thing. Voters should be offended by Joe Deters and his colleagues. Instead of real reform, they are choosing to incite fear.”

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