Frequently Asked Questions

The duties of the office are many and varied. The Mahoning County Prosecuting Attorney oversees the operation of the Prosecutor’s Office. While the role is primarily administrative, Paul Gains involves himself in specific cases as he sees fit or as necessity dictates. The Mahoning County Prosecutor’s Office has three main divisions: the Criminal Division, which acts on behalf of the State of Ohio and prosecutes offenders for all traffic and misdemeanor offenses at the county court level, and felony crimes at the Mahoning County Court of Common Pleas; the Juvenile Division, which prosecutes all juvenile crime, whether felony or misdemeanor, based on either location of the occurrence or residency of the juvenile in the county; and the Civil Division which acts as civil counsel to its statutory clients.

The Prosecuting Attorney is the legal advisor for:

  • All County elected officials (including all judges, the Commissioners, the Recorder, the Auditor, the Treasurer, the Engineer, the Sheriff, the Coroner, and the Clerk of Courts);
  • All County offices (including, but not limited to, Solid Waste, Soil and Water, the Tax Map Office, the Building Department, the Planning Department, Mahoning County Department of Jobs and Family Services, and Mahoning County Child Enforcement Agency);
  • All County boards and commissions (including, but not limited to, the District Board of Health, the Board of Elections, the Budget Commission, the Children’s Services Board, the Mahoning County Board of Developmental Disabilities and the Mental Health & Recovery Board);
  • The Mahoning County Law Library; and
  • Thirteen townships in Mahoning County, including those townships’ officers, boards, commissions and police departments.

These clients may request opinions or advice from the prosecuting attorney in matters connected with their official duties. The prosecuting attorney also prosecutes and defends all suits and actions on behalf of these public officials or entities. No county officer may employ any other counsel or attorney at the expense of the county, unless authorized to do so by statute.

The Mahoning County Prosecutor’s Office is open 8:00am to 4:30pm, Monday through Friday, except legal holidays.

Case assignments are handed out by the Chief of the Criminal Division or by the Prosecuting Attorney. Cases are assigned after Arraignment, once a courtroom assignment has been made. Certain areas of cases, i.e. sex offenses, have been assigned as the focus of certain assistant prosecutors. While those prosecutors do not necessarily handle all of the cases of that type, they handle the majority of those types of cases and are the resource for other prosecutors handling them. Cases are also divided in order to equalize the caseload among the assistants as much as possible. If your case has been indicted and arraigned, call the office and the staff will locate your case to identify the assigned assistant prosecutor.

The court process begins after a crime occurs and has been investigated by law enforcement.  After which time, officers may file a charge against an individual if they have sufficient evidence. If the offense is a charged with a felony, the person, will appear before a Municipal or County Court judge, depending on where the crime occurred. The presiding judge will determine, after a short preliminary hearing, whether there is probable cause to believe the person committed a felony offense. If the judge finds probable cause exits, the judge “binds the case over” (or transfers the case) to the Court of Common Pleas. This is not a finding of guilt, but a determination that enough evidence exists to forward the case to the Court of Common Pleas, where felony cases are prosecuted. The prosecutor’s office will present the case to the Grand Jury in a proceeding where only the prosecuting attorney, the Grand Jury, and the witnesses attend.

If the Grand Jury determines that it has been provided sufficient evidence that a crime was probably committed and that the defendant probably committed the crime, it returns an indictment. An indictment is a document charging an individual (now called a “defendant”) with a criminal offense and replaces the charge originally filed by the police. Based on that document, the defendant is brought before a Common Pleas Judge for Arraignment. At the Arraignment, the defendant is notified of the charges against him or her and the rights of a criminal defendant.

After the Arraignment, the case moves into the “pre-trial” stage, which includes the exchange of information between the prosecuting attorney and the defense attorney, through a process called “discovery.” A series of meetings with the judge, called pre-trials, may follow, in which the parties engage in “plea negotiations.” Should there be any question as to the propriety or validity of any evidence, written “motions” or arguments to the judge may be filed. These would typically be followed by hearings, where the court will hear witness testimony and arguments by the attorneys. The vast majority of criminal defendants plead guilty instead of taking their case to trial. Otherwise, a trial would occur, in which evidence would be presented to either the judge or a jury, who would make a final determination on the guilt of the defendant. Should the defendant be found guilty, the judge will issue a sentence, which is a penalty for the criminal violation.

This is a brief summary of the process. At any point, the process could change. Plea negotiations that occur often change or obviate some portion or all of the other steps.

The local law enforcement agency having jurisdiction over the location of the crime should be the first call. Often this will be the police department of the locality where the criminal event occurred. In certain townships, the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office has jurisdiction. These law enforcement agencies investigate criminal acts. The Prosecuting Attorney’s Office may receive the case only after the investigation is complete.

Crimes committed in Mahoning County are investigated by the police, typically charged by the police and then turned over to the Prosecutor’s Office for potential indictment. Otherwise, cases may be turned over to the office before charging for potential direct indictment. In either case, charges are not brought by individual citizens. The best way to proceed on a potential criminal case is to contact the law enforcement agency with jurisdiction over the location where the crime occurred. Often this will be the police department of the locality where the criminal event occurred. In certain townships, the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office has jurisdiction.

This determination can be difficult. However, a valuable guideline is to test the intention of person who committed the act. Generally, the actor must commit the act knowing or intending to commit an act which is against the law. If the act was committed accidentally or unknowingly, the case is quite possibility civil in nature. The prosecutor’s office does not represent private individuals in these types of matters. However, if an act that resulted in physical or economic harm was committed intentionally, knowingly (knowing that a certain result would occur without necessarily intending it) or even recklessly (acting with heedless indifference to the consequences), the incident may be criminal. The Prosecutor’s Office may have authority to prosecute the criminal matter. These are broad generalities and should not be considered as hard and fast rules.

You should contact the local law enforcement agency having jurisdiction over the location of the crime. Often this will be the police department of the locality where the criminal event occurred. In certain townships, the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office has jurisdiction.

If you know where the person is located, you should contact the local law enforcement agency having jurisdiction over that location. The Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office can also be contacted if the local jurisdiction is unknown or unreachable.

The Mahoning County Clerk of Courts records all pleadings and related court filings for the Mahoning County Court of Common Pleas. The progress of the case can be checked on its website https://ecourts.mahoningcountyoh.gov/eservices/home.page.2.

The Mahoning County Bar Association has a lawyer referral service on its website https://mahoningbar.org/.

The parties to a criminal case are the defendant and the State of Ohio as a whole. The victim is not a party. Therefore, the victim in a criminal case has no authority or standing to drop charges. Victims are strongly encouraged to discuss their concerns and desires with the assistant prosecuting attorney handling the case. While victims are not parties to the case, they are important and their point of view will be heard. The Victim/Witness Office of the Mahoning County Prosecutor’s Office is also a valuable resource for victims to express themselves to the office.

Contact the Mahoning County Child Support Enforcement Agency at 330-740-2073.

A plea of “not guilty” at the arraignment is necessary in order to begin the court process. No matter the evidence against a defendant, he or she is entitled to require the state to present evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. By entering a plea of “not guilty,” he or she is exercising this constitutional right.

A warrant is an order by a court to all law enforcement agencies under the force of the order, to arrest the person who is the subject of the order and hold him until he can be brought back before the court.

A “trial” is a court proceeding where the guilt or innocence of a defendant is determined after the facts surrounding a particular alleged event or series of events are set forth through testimony and evidence. A “bench trial” is one where the judge makes the ultimate guilt determination. A “jury trial” is one where a jury, or a group of citizens assigned to hear a particular case, makes the determination.

A grand jury is a group of citizens of the county, randomly selected by a Court of Common Pleas, which examines evidence and testimony to determine if a felony charge should be filed against an individual. The Grand Jury does not determine guilt or innocence. Instead, it decides whether the Prosecutor’s Office has shown it probable cause to believe that a crime was committed and that the suspect committed the crime. “Probable cause” means that, essentially, the grand jury has more reason to believe the crime did occur than not. If the grand jury finds probable cause, they return an “indictment,” or a document which is delivered to the defendant saying that he or she has been charged with a crime.

The Mahoning County Grand Jury generally meets every Thursday each month. They may be required to meet at others times, should circumstances require. The grand jury meets at the Mahoning County Court of Common Pleas.