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Ohio Criminal Law: An Overview

Ohio, the home of six U.S. Presidents, is both the 7th most populous and 10th most densely populated state in the nation. Cleveland ranks as the 23rd most dangerous city in the U.S. The state itself, however, only ranks as the 32nd most dangerous state.

Ohio Felonies and Misdemeanors

Ohio, like every other state, is free to draft its own criminal laws. A crime that is classified as a misdemeanor of the first degree in Canton, Ohio may be classified and penalized differently in Chicago or San Francisco. However, Ohio's laws are still subject to federal regulation. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately decides the constitutionality of a state law.

In Ohio, crimes are classified from the most criminal to the least as:

  • Felonies, subdivided into:
    • Aggravated murder
    • Murder
    • First, second, third, fourth, and fifth degrees
  • Misdemeanors, subdivided into:
    • First, second, third, fourth, and fifth degrees
    • Minor misdemeanor
  • Unclassified offenses

Felonies are the most severe crimes that are penalized with imprisonment for more than one year and a fine of up to $25,000. Misdemeanors are lesser crimes that are penalized with imprisonment for less than one year and a fine of up to $1,000. Unclassified offenses may be classified as misdemeanors or felonies depending on the imposed penalties.

Murder vs. Manslaughter in Ohio

In Ohio, there is a fundamental difference between murder and voluntary manslaughter—also known as a “heat of passion” crime. If a person purposefully killed someone after having a reasonable amount of time to reflect on their actions, it is murder. On the other hand, if a person purposefully killed someone while their emotions were compromised and didn't allow themselves time to calm down and reflect on their actions, it is voluntary manslaughter.

Voluntary manslaughter hinges upon the sudden passion or fit of rage a person experiences at the time of the killing. For example, if a betrayed spouse killed their lover out of rage upon finding the adulterer in bed with another person, that may be considered voluntary manslaughter in Ohio.

Ohio OVI Laws

As with every other state, it is illegal to drive impaired by alcohol, drugs, or medication in Ohio. If a driver is found to have a blood-alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.08 percent or higher after chemical testing, they are charged with an OVI (Operating a Vehicle under the Influence). A driver who is younger than 21 years of age will receive an OVAUC (Operating a Vehicle After Underage Consumption) if they register at a BAC level of 0.02 percent or higher.

Capital Punishment in Ohio

The death penalty is still legal in Ohio, though it has been challenged in recent years by changing opinions and the availability of the drugs used in lethal injections. A criminal charged with aggravated murder may be sentenced to capital punishment by lethal injection if their crime was committed under specific circumstances, including the assassination of a politician or police officer.

Ohio hasn't executed an inmate on death row since 2014 because the companies from which the state purchased the drugs required for lethal injection are refusing to supply them. The controversy surrounding Ohio capital punishment will likely continue due to its ethical issues.

Contact a Ohio Criminal Defense Attorney

Anyone facing criminal charges in Ohio has the right to mount a vigorous defense. An attorney familiar with local criminal procedures and laws can be a crucial advocate.

Make sure you talk with an attorney about your case and your needs before hiring one. Most criminal defense lawyers should be able to handle any misdemeanor or low-level crime. Not all attorneys are qualified to handle serious charges.

An Ohio criminal defense attorney could mean the difference between going to jail and going free.