Ohio judges no longer need to justify handing out punishment that is tougher than the minimum sentence required by law, ruled a unanimous Ohio Supreme Court, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The ruling will require the resentencing of hundreds, if not thousands, of felons, and it raises questions about the consistency of future criminal sentences throughout Ohio courts. Judges will have a tremendous amount of discretion under the ruling, said David Diroll of the Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission.
For instance, sentencing guidelines call for three to 10 years for a first-degree felony, but if the defendant is a repeat violent offender, the guidelines allow a judge to impose up to 20 years. Before Monday’s ruling, a judge could impose only three years unless the judge established a reason for a tougher sentence. “So the issue is, does a guy get three years in one court and 20 years in another?” Diroll said. The Supreme Court said the state’s sentencing structure is “severely wounded but it is not fatally unsound.” Following the lead of the U.S. Supreme Court, Ohio justices threw out elements of the state’s criminal sentencing laws that became effective in 1996.