Criminal court reform


It has taken years to reform Ohio criminal court rules in a way that prosecutors and defense attorneys could live with, but perseverance paid off. New criminal court procedures have the potential to improve criminal justice for everyone who comes into contact with the system - witnesses, police, judges, and jurors.

The package of reforms that became law this month will change the way the courts do business. Key among those revisions is one that makes Ohio an "open discovery" state, requiring prosecutors and defense attorneys to share more information than in the past.

That includes essential discovery data such as witness statements, police reports, and expert-witness reports that have been difficult for defense lawyers to get in some Ohio counties. Defense attorney Jefferson Massey of Zanesville says the change not only will help resolve cases faster, but also is "a much fairer way of doing it."

The law also creates new procedures for police when they ask eyewitnesses to identify suspects. It restricts what an officer can say to the witness and how suspects' photos are presented. Mark Godsey, a University of Cincinnati law professor who helped draft the reforms, said about 75 percent of wrongful convictions are linked to mistaken identification.

Another big change in the law requires authorities to collect DNA samples from all adults arrested on felony charges. In killings and sexual assaults, they must preserve biological evidence for as long as 30 years. Covering the cost of DNA collection and working out logistics for evidence retention are details still to be worked out.

The new rules are widely supported by police, prosecutors, and defense attorneys who are pleased with added disclosure.

If justice becomes more likely, with a more level playing field for prosecution and defense, the long awaited reforms in Ohio are changes for the better.