The Ohio Supreme Court and the University of Cincinnati agreed Monday to
"tell the full story" of criminal sentencing in Ohio as Chapter 1 of
the larger march toward comprehensive criminal justice data. Chief Justice
Maureen O'Connor said the state's current "swamp" of unknown or
disparate felony sentencing will present a clearer picture when the Ohio
Sentencing Database Platform (OSDP) is complete.
O'Connor gathered at the Ohio Judicial Center with UC President Neville Pinto;
6th District Judge Gene Zmuda, chairman of the OSDP Governance
Board; Allen County Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey Reed, the data pilot's early
adopter; Judges Jaiza Page of Franklin County Common Pleas Court and Andy
Ballard of Lawrence County Common Pleas Court, participants in the ongoing
pilot; and Executive Director Sara Andrews of the Ohio Criminal Sentencing
Commission (OCSC), whom O'Connor praised.
"Had it not been for you, this idea would not even have gotten off the
starting blocks," she said of Andrews, who has led OCSC for seven years
and rolled out the sentencing database in June. (See The Hannah Report,
Andrews said OSDP will allow the state to compare county-by-county sentencing
outcomes reflecting varying "community standards" around law
enforcement, criminal prosecution and punishment.
"Available and searchable data transcends any one branch of government. It
is the only objective way to make sure what we're doing works and is or isn't
achieving the intended results," she said. "The reality is we're
suffering from the cumulative effect of tinkering with sentencing structure on
limited data sources and on a crime-by-crime basis. Consequently, we have
amassed an exceedingly complex sentencing structure."
Zmuda called sentencing both complicated and "taxing" to judges with
broad discretion at the local level.
"We have one felony sentencing statute, cumbersome as it is," he
said. "But that law is being applied by 244 judges across our 88 distinct
Zmuda said the uniform sentencing entry (USE) developed by O'Connor's USE Ad
Hoc Committee is not "static" but rather a "living
document" to ensure judicial sentencing "fully conforms to current
law." He said 34 judges from more than a dozen counties are now on board
with USE, though all courts aren't currently able to interface digitally.
"It's no longer, 'Can we do this?' Rather, 'How shall we do this?'"
he observed, saying OSDP will be the nation's first such database when complete.
Ballard agreed, calling Ohio an "innovator."
"It will allow us to tell for the first time the full story of trial
courts' felony sentences…," said Zmuda, "to make sure judges are
properly proceeding in sentence" with a "full and fair administration
Reed said how a given judge reaches a particular sentence is not always
apparent to court participants.
"Unfortunately, it might even be misunderstood by the person being
sentenced," he said. "When the portal goes live, it will help reveal
the reason, the story behind felony sentencing in Ohio."
Page and Ballard said the pilot has illuminated their approach to the penalty
"It's making me think about my sentences in a different way and ensuring …
sentences that I impose are no different based on any personal biases I may
have or any issues that I see," Page said. "Sentences are being
imposed based on the facts and the story that is presented to me."
O'Connor said OSDP is less about sentencing as a practice and more about
"people's lives" -- an effort dating back to the late Chief Justice
Thomas Moyer's Racial Fairness Commission.
"That doesn't mean this project is all about race. What we want to do, and
what we need to do, is erase the conjecture about felony sentencing in our
state. We're not striving to meet a narrative," the chief said. "The
narrative will reveal itself as this project goes forward."
O'Connor joined Pinto in signing the following declaration:
"The OSDP project is designed to tell the story of sentencing in Ohio.
That story begins when judges integrate the uniform sentencing and method of
conviction forms into their existing court processes, which will for the first
time provide statewide, reliable and accessible information on sentencing
O'Connor forecast the larger revolution in data-informed criminal justice.
"We're starting with sentencing; it is the beginning, not the end,"