The Criminal Division is responsible for the prosecution of all serious adult offenders in the Mahoning County Common Pleas Court. In general, felony offenses are crimes that carry a potential prison sentence. Those crimes include high-value theft, possession of illicit drugs with a high potential for abuse, drug trafficking, domestic violence, robbery, burglary, rape, human trafficking, and murder. Felony cases are initiated by presentation to a grand jury. If the grand jury finds enough evidence to indict, an assistant prosecutor handles the case through arraignment, pretrial hearings, plea, trial, and sentencing. Except for murder (an “unclassified” felony), the seriousness of felony offenses is denoted by degrees. For example, a felony of the 1st degree is a more serious felony offense, while a felony of the 5th degree is less serious. More serious felony offenses carry the possibility of longer prison sentences. Criminal Division prosecutors continue to represent the State of Ohio in many post-conviction hearings, such as appeal, probation revocation, and judicial release. Assistant prosecutors are also called upon to assist various law enforcement agencies in criminal investigations.
The United States and Ohio Constitutions require that all felony cases be presented to the Grand Jury for a determination of whether there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and that the accused is the person who committed that crime. The Mahoning County Grand Jury meets once per week, and grand jurors serve for a period of four months. An assistant prosecutor presents cases for the Grand Jury’s consideration. Generally, each case is presented through the testimony of the investigating officer, but victims and other witnesses may also be called to testify. The grand jurors listen to the testimony, review the law, and then vote on whether or not to return an indictment against the accused. At least seven of nine grand jurors must vote in favor of a charge before it can be included in an indictment.
The VAWA Unit is funded through a grant program administered by the Office of Criminal Justice Services. The purpose of this unit is to vertically prosecute crimes against women and children, including sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, and dating violence. Through vertical prosecution, assistant prosecutors assigned to VAWA handle cases from start to finish by consulting with law enforcement during investigations, presenting cases to the Grand Jury, and appearing in court at pre-trial hearings, plea hearings, trials, and sentencing hearings. VAWA prosecutors devote all of their professional time to this docket and are very knowledgeable about the unique challenges of such cases. VAWA often prosecutes crimes against victims who are reluctant to report sexual or physical abuse and are fearful of their abusers. Victims may be related to their abusers, and many victims in these cases are children. In addition to assisting victims through the criminal justice process, VAWA prosecutors present juries with medical and forensic evidence, correspond with social workers working with victims, and provide training for law enforcement regarding cases of sexual assault and domestic abuse.