Ohio lawmakers overhauled the state's sentencing structure in 1996 to give judges more leeway in tailoring sentences to individual defendants rather than basing sentencing on the actual crime. The revisions allow judges to look at the defendant's prior record, the severity of the offense, type of offense and whether violence or a weapon was involved. Under the Ohio code, judges sentence defendants who are convicted of a fifth-degree felony with a specific rather than indeterminate sentence. According to the Ohio State Bar Assn., judges are required in each felony case "to punish the offender and protect the public".
Crimes in Ohio are categorized by misdemeanor and felony. Misdemeanors are considered by the courts and lawmakers as less serious, while felonies are treated as more serious offenses. The penalties for the two crimes increase depending on the severity and whether the crime is a misdemeanor or felony. Defendants convicted of a felony face the possibility of more prison time, higher fines and more community sanctions than those convicted of misdemeanors.
Felonies in Ohio are categorized by five classes. First-degree felonies, such as murder, are considered the most serious while fifth-degree felonies are slightly more serious than misdemeanor charges.
Defendants convicted of a fifth degree felony are given a prison sentence if the crime involves a weapon or is carried out by a person who has served prison time previously. Other factors requiring a prison sentence include any offense committed by an organized crime syndicate, a sex offense or a crime committed by a person in a public office or position of trust, such as a school teacher or parent. If the defendant does not fall under any factors requiring prison, the judge may require a sentence of community service or probation.
Ohio judges determine the exact number of years convicted defendants will serve in prison. The number of years for a fifth-degree felony can be six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11 or 12 months. A defendant may be released early from prison, but the decision on an early release is left to the discretion of the trial judge.
Fines assessed in fifth degree felony cases are dependent on whether the defendant is an individual or an organization. An individual convicted of a fifth degree felony may be assessed up to $2,500 while an organization faces a fine up to $7,500 as of April 2010.
Fifth degree felonies include assault of a police officer or teacher, assault in a correctional facility, breaking and entering, theft of money or items valued between $100,000 and $500,000, forgery, violating a protective order or trafficking in marijuana, LSD or heroin.