Friday, February 26, 2010

The Procecuter's Office

A few months ago Kim and I decided that the biggest problem that we have found is that everyone wants to play the "Blame Game"...We have heard many, many opinions being out in the public and being a family member, I know that I have "my side" of what goes on behind the scenes of a homicide. This being our 3rd year out, we have learned many, many things. I will be the first to admit that I once thought that I knew everything about the entire process. I was wrong. It is our goal this year to be able to educate everyone that visits this sight. The Police and Prosecuters' Office get blamed for each and every unsolved case. We are interviewing local law enforcement agencies, officials, and family members to get all sides and opinions of what exactly goes on when there is a homicide. In our case, spacifically, UNSOLVED cases. We want everyone to realize that there are many sides. Everyone can use some education. The families and the public do not know how to deal with law enforcement, and just the same, I think that there are officials and law enforcement that do not realize what the families go through or know how to deal with us either.
Prosecuter Robert Herron agreed to do this interview with us in hopes to answer some of our most frequent questions. We always welcome any comments that people wish to leave on here and everyone is entitled to their opinions, however, we all need to work together to solve these cases and any outright attacks on anyone who does an interview with us, will be removed. 
 Hopefully, when you read this, you will learn something which of course is the whole point...
Thank you, Mr. Herron for taking time out of your very busy schedule to answer our questions! (Please note that this interview has NOT been edited in any way and was actually copied and pasted word for word.)

1) How is the jurisdiction on a case determined? 
     Jurisdiction has several different meanings. One type of jurisdiction refers to the authority of a court to hear a certain case.  Another type of jurisdiction refers to the geographic area within which a certain court has authority to hear a case. Venue refers to the location where a trial is held.

2) On average, how long does it take to get DNA or evidence back from the lab?-
     BCI operates three labs that perform DNA testing. The time involved in testing varies depending on the backlog of cases awaiting testing, the priority assigned to the case based upon the status of any pending charges, and the length of time required to actually perform the testing. Television crime dramas give the public misconceptions about the time and attention given to forensic evidence.

3) What determines which crime lab evidence goes to?
     The Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation (BCI) is a division of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. BCI operates three nationally accredited forensic labs that analyze evidence submitted by local law enforcement agencies located within the geographic area assigned to that specific lab. However, certain types of testing may only be performed at one BCI lab requiring evidence from throughout the State of Ohio to be sent to that specific lab for evaluation.

4) How many people from the Prosecutor’s Office work on the same case? Or are there only particular people that work on particular cases?
     Staff involvement varies from case to case. Generally, an Assistant Prosecutor is assigned to a specific Court, and handles all the cases before that Court. The Prosecutors assigned to Juvenile Court handle all the matters heard by Juvenile Court, the Prosecutors assigned to Municipal Court handle cases filed in Municipal Court etc. Certain types of cases however, are assigned to a specific Prosecutor who has experience and expertise in that type of case. For example, Rape offenses and child abuse cases are handled by a specific prosecutor and investigator in the Office. Felony offenses can be initiated in Municipal Court, be bound over to the Grand Jury, and then be tried in the Court of Common Pleas. A different Prosecutor will handle the same case at each level of the process.  Additionally, investigators and victim/ witness co-ordinators may be involved at the different stages of the process. 

5) Why would the family not be allowed in the courtroom during a trial?
    Generally, trials are public proceedings. The Court can exercise it’s discretion to limit access for security reasons and to avoid disruptions to the proceedings. The Court will also typically exclude all witnesses who may be called to testify.

6) What role does the polygraph play when determining if someone case goes to trial?
     Polygraph tests are not admissible evidence unless there is an agreement among the parties prior to the test that the test result will be admissible.  Polygraph tests are simply one tool that can be used by the investigators or prosecutors to evaluate the truthfulness of a witness.
7) If you have committed a similar crime for example 5 years ago, can that be brought up at your
     The Ohio Rules of Evidence govern what can be admitted into evidence in a trial. Generally, relevant evidence that an accused was convicted of a crime is admissible to impeach his/her testimony if the crime was punishable by imprisonment in excess of one year ,and the Court finds that the probative value of the evidence outweighs the danger of unfair prejudice, or that the crime involved dishonesty or false statement, and provided further, that the evidence of conviction is not admissable if a period of more than ten years has elapsed since the date of conviction. If the accused chooses not to testify, then evidence of a prior conviction usually is not admissible.

8) Can evidence be presented at a trial that was not known before? And what is the cut­off point for that? I.e. Can it be brought in after one side or the other rests, or is there a cut off time to present any evidence or witnesses?
      In a process referred to as “Discovery”, the parties are required, by the Rules of Criminal Procedure, to provide the opposing party with a list of all evidence, certain witness statements, scientific reports, evidence favorable to the accused, etc upon demand and within specified time frames prior to trial. Evidence not provided in discovery is admitted only at the Court’s discretion.

9) How long does it take to make an arrest once it is determined who the main subject is in the case? (assuming that there is enough evidence for an arrest)
     The decision to arrest should be driven by whether sufficient evidence is established by the investigation and will vary from case to case.    

10) What is needed from the police in a case such homicide for you to prosecute?
     Sufficient admissable evidence to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt as to each element of the criminal offense.

II) Has anyone ever received the death penalty in Columbiana County? If so who?
     The last person to receive the death penalty in Columbiana County was Gordon Reynolds in 1995.

12) What prison do the dangerous criminals go to once they are found guilty?
     Once a prisoner is delivered into the custody of The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, the prisoner is classified according to ODRC guidelines which determines whether a prisoner will serve a sentence in a minimum, medium, or maximum security facility, and ODRC then assigns the prisoner to the appropriate institution. 

13) Why do bail amounts vary on the same kind of cases? Who determines the amount set for bond? 
      The Court determines the bond in each case, based on factors set forth by the Ohio Rules of  Criminal Procedure and any other relevant information. 

14) How do you determine whether or not you, Mr. Herron take a case i  if  it is appointed to someone else in your office?
      That decision is made on a case by case basis.

15) What is the longest amount of time that it has taken someone to get to trial after they have been arrested?
     When a case actually goes to trial varies from case to case depending on the circumstances of each case, and no statistics are kept to track case timelines.

16) What is your most memorable case and why?
      Having prosecuted criminal cases in this County for over thirty-one years, there are numerous cases that are memorable for a number of different reasons, but I prefer not to identify them publicly out of respect for the victims or the victim’s family.

17) Is there a case that has haunted you or effected you like no other? Not necessarily because of the outcome but because of the case     itself?
      Violent offenses involving child victims stay with you.

18) What kind of case is the hardest to prosecute?
      Every case is different. Every case has different witnesses, different law enforcement officers, different facts, different evidence, different considerations. One thing is constant: cases are driven by evidence. Even the most horrific offense, where sufficient evidence has been recovered, is less challenging than a case that has been poorly investigated.

19) If someone is given a sentence of say 15 to life, why would someone only get 15 years?
      The Ohio Revised Code prescribes the penalties for each criminal offense. The Judge determines what sentence to impose within the range set under Ohio law. The Ohio Parole Authority has the exclusive authority to determine when an inmate is paroled.

20) What determines if they get a chance of parole?
     Only the Ohio Parole Authority has the power to grant parole and is given broad discretion to determine whether an inmate, when eligible, is granted parole.  The Governor has the power to grant pardons and commutations of sentences.

21) Can a severe illness be a determining factor in parole?
      That may be a consideration of the Parole Board if the inmate is eligible for parole.

22) What are the different charges considered in a case such as murder?
     Charging options are based on the facts and may result in Murder, Aggravated Murder, or Aggravated Murder with death specification charges.

23) In the State of Ohio, if someone gets life in prison, how long is     that?
      Various offenses carry terms of life imprisonment but Ohio statutes often also establish parole eligibility after an inmate has served a specified period of time. In this context, it means the inmate can begin petitioning the Parole Board for parole. For example, the sentence could be life imprisonment with parole eligibility after twenty- five years. It doesn’t necessarily mean the inmate will be paroled after twenty-five, but rather he can begin to request the Board to consider whether he be granted parole.

24) Once a murder trial is over and a case is closed, does all of that information then become public record?
     Generally, information becomes public record when the appeals process has concluded.

25) What are the different penalties for a vehicular homicide and a homicide where someone is shot or stabbed?
     Vehicular homicides are classified by the Ohio Revised Code based upon the facts in the case, and range from a misdemeanor of the first degree to a felony of the first degree.
    Murder Offenses carry an indefinite term of imprisonment from fifteen years to life.
      Aggravated Murder offenses carry sentences that vary based on the facts ranging from life imprisonment with parole eligibility to the death penalty.

26) Why do the families have no rights to have any information during an open investigation? Obviously, we realize that there are things that are kept quiet to protect the case, but why can't families know something in advance that is going to be put in the paper?
      Prosecutors have statutory, and ethical, as well as tactical restrictions on the disclosure of information. Oftentimes information not subject to disclosure is revealed in pleadings or in open court, and then reported by the media. The State has no control whatsoever on what or when the media reports. We don’t issue press releases containing investigatory work product. If circumstances permit, we try to prepare families in advance of the release of sensitive information.

27) What are the specifications needed to ask for an appeal?
     The defendant in a criminal case is entitled to one appeal. The State, however, has extremely limited ability to appeal. The grounds for an appeal by the defendant are too numerous to list, but often involve an alleged violation of his constitutional rights,  or an allegation of some irregularity in the proceedings, or an allegation claiming the misapplication of a law.

And finally, we at CCFHV realize that everyone is very quick to judge the Prosecutors Office for all and every unsolved case. What is needed for you to prosecute a case?
     The Prosecutors Office does not handle unsolved cases. It is the responsibility of the law enforcement agency/police department in whose jurisdiction the offense occurred to investigate and solve the case. Once the police investigation produces sufficient admissible evidence to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt as to each element of the criminal offense, the Prosecutors Office then undertakes prosecuting the offender. It is not the responsibility of the Prosecutors Office to conduct investigations. That is the job of the individual police departments, who do not work for the Prosecuting Attorney. Once their investigation produces evidence meeting the standard above, it becomes the job of the prosecutor to try the case.
And is there a message that you would like the public to know?
      Each case is unique. Each case is different. Different evidence, different witnesses, different investigators, different circumstances, different charges, different considerations. One thing that remains constant is that cases are driven by evidence. The state must prove each and every element of a criminal charge beyond a reasonable doubt. Prosecutors have  ethical and professional duties to file only those charges where each element of the offense can be proven by admissible evidence at trial. Anything less is an abuse of the criminal justice process and undermines the credibility of our system of justice, and law enforcement generally. Furthermore, the State only gets one bite at the apple – one chance to prosecute an individual for a specific offense.  If insufficient evidence exists to support a conviction and the accused is acquitted, he cannot be tried for the same offense twice, even if new evidence is later discovered. Prosecutors must rely on the police to conduct investigations that produce evidence to meet that burden and must insist on nothing less. The failure to meet these duties will result only in further injustice.

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