Ohio Clerk of Courts Can (and Will) Cage You

A recent story coming out of Ohio shows that a new policy goes into effect in Columbiana County on June 15, 2015 which gives the Clerk of Courts full authority to determine probable cause for any arrest in that county.  This new policy enacted by Columbiana County Clerk of Courts, Anthony Dattillo will result in many spending a minimum of a night in jail, regardless of the alleged offense.  These offenses can be as small as a simple traffic offense.

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires that probable cause exists before someone can be arrested, and under Ohio’s rules of criminal procedure only an unbiased judge, magistrate, clerk of courts, or deputy clerk can make that determination.  Under current policy, Dattillo has authorized police dispatchers to serve as special deputy clerks for the purpose of making probable cause determinations, which has been in practice throughout Ohio.  When the officer wanted to make an arrest on the spot after responding to a call, they were required to present the information to the dispatcher, who determined whether probable cause existed for the arrest.  If PC was determined by the dispatcher, he/she signed off on the paperwork that allowed the arrest to be made.  The state does not have mandated training standards, but it does have recommended standards for certification under state law 4742 (http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/4742), which became effective in November of 1997.

This new policy comes about after a 2011 Ohio Supreme Court ruling involving another Ohio county, where the deputy clerk automatically determined probable cause existed even though the police detective failed to present any information in support of the warrant. (State v. Robinson)  The murder conviction from this arrest was upheld, but the Supreme Court said only “neutral and detached” court officials allowed by law are to make probable cause determinations.

arrestThe new policy will have a major on impact people arrested on non-violent charges, when it comes to being able to post bond to get out of jail.  Since dispatchers  will no longer be determining PC, arrestees will now have to wait until 8 a.m. the next day when a deputy clerk will be available to make the probable cause determination, after which they can then post to get out of jail.  This applies to anyone arrested after 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and anytime Saturday or Sunday.  If this is the case, these people are still being arrested and jail before there has been a determination of probable cause.  The law allows would be arrestees to be held for 48 hours without charges being filed.  What remedy do these individuals have when they were incarcerated and it is later determined that there was no probable cause for the arrest?

According to the original article in the Salem News, when questioned about the new policy, Shane Patron, Chief Deputy Clerk of Courts said, “If you break the law and get arrested, you will spend the night in jail.”  When asked about the delay in those arrested being able to bond out of jail, Patron goes on to say, “Maybe a night in jail will serve as a deterrent for some of the people who are arrested.”

The Columbiana County Jail is owned by Community Education Centers, Inc. and according to their website:

Community Education Centers, Inc. (CEC) is a leading provider of reentry treatment and education services for adult correctional populations throughout the United States. CEC is firmly committed to partnering with government agencies to provide intensive reentry treatment and education programs that focus on changing addictive and criminal behaviors, preparing offenders for reentry, and ultimately reducing recidivism.

The county commissioners pay this firm for every day an inmate spends incarcerated in the facility.  This new policy being put into place will drive up jail costs because more people will start spending the night in jail.  This is a cost that in reality is being paid by the tax payers of the county to house those jailed for non-violent and victimless crimes.

Dattillo could not be reached for comment at the time of this writing.

Contact for information regarding this new policy:  Anthony J. Dattillo, Columbiana County Clerk of Courts, (330)424-7777.

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