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Your Cincinnati Criminal Case: The Basics

It could be summertime, and theoretically, far removed from the "madness" of March and the hype of the Crosstown Shootout. It may be the case, though, that there's always a little bit of tension when talking to an irrational stranger about Musketeer and Bearcat basketball. If you add in any amount of alcohol, the unthinkable might happen. One thing may lead to another until you find yourself with a criminal case.

More confusing than how you got into such a situation is what to do next. FindLaw offers this guide to criminal cases in Cincy. Review each section, click on the links, and talk to your attorney for more information. So, whether you watched every game of the "the Run" in 2004 or you cried when Kenyon Martin broke his leg, you can put this madness behind you.

Two Levels of Criminal Court

Criminal cases in the Queen City will start in either the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas or Municipal Court. Cincinnati's Court of Common Pleas has the authority to hear both felony and misdemeanor cases (more on these topics below). Municipal Court, on the other hand, only hears misdemeanor and traffic cases. Despite this difference, the rules of criminal procedure are the same in most criminal proceedings. For more on Cincinnati's courthouses, review Findlaw's resource page devoted to the region.

Arrest and/or Citation

The arrest is the most common point of entry into the criminal justice system. Upon arrest, a law officer will most likely take a suspect to the Hamilton County Justice Center at Sycamore and E. 9th St. downtown. Arrestees will be booked and remain there until the court sets bail at the Arraignment.

Some individuals will not be arrested, particularly if the suspected offense is really minor. For example, if a police officer suspects that you are intoxicated in public after a Reds game, you may receive a citation with a notice to either appear in court or pay a fine. The officer is not likely to arrest you and take you to the Justice Center.


This is a defendant's first appearance in court. This is where the government reads the formal charges and verifies that the defendant understands his/her rights. If you are arraigned, you have the right to an attorney. If you would like to hire one, you have the right to put proceedings on hold while you work to hire one.

Each crime charged fits into one of three categories: (1) felonies, which are more serious and can lead to a punishment exceeding 6 months in jail; (2) misdemeanors, which are relatively minor and have a maximum penalty of six months jail and/or $1,000 fine; and (3) minor misdemeanors which may lead to a $150 fine only. The exact procedure from this point forward may vary depending on whether the State is charging the defendant with a felony or a misdemeanor.

Felony Preliminary Hearing

If the State charges you with a felony, you will typically have the right to a preliminary hearing. Within two weeks, the prosecution will have to present its evidence to show that it has "probable cause" to believe that you committed one of the crimes as alleged. Suspects who are indicted via grand jury are not entitled to a preliminary hearing because probable cause has already been established.

Pre-Trial and Trial Timing

Between the arraignment and trial, each side will have time to submit arguments, in the form of motions, to the court about the details of the trial including: timing, evidence to be admitted, and legal defenses to be presented. Generally, you must submit the motions at least seven days before trial. The trial itself usually occurs within 30 days after a defendant enters a plea. If, however, the trial is delayed by a significant amount of time, all motions must be submitted no later than 35 days after arraignment. So if you're accused of fighting in a bar in OTR, but you want to claim that you were instead at the Khron Conservatory, notify the prosecution in writing a week in advance of trial.


A defendant may waive his/her right to a jury trial. If the defendant so wishes, he/she must put the waiver in writing, and the judge will then decide the facts of the case in what is called a "bench trial." If the only charge is a petty offense (such as theft of an item worth less than $300), a bench trial is the default and the defendant must demand a jury. The court will feature eight jurors for misdemeanor trials and twelve jurors for felony trials, and jury verdicts must be unanimous. See Rules 23 and 31 from the Ohio Rules of Criminal Procedure (PDF).


You now have the basics of a criminal case in Cincinnati. There are potentially many more considerations that may not be covered within this article. Talk to your attorney early and often -- that may be the best way to maintain your sanity.

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