The state of Ohio groups its crimes into misdemeanors and felonies, like most other states. Felonies, the more serious offenses, are further divided into Class 1 through Class 5, again by the seriousness of the crime. The most heinous crimes are unclassified felonies that fall outside this felony-level system.
Although it may be counterintuitive, a Class 1 felony is the most serious felony while a Class 5 felony charge is the least serious. Still, conviction of a Class 5 felony is more serious than a misdemeanor. It can result in a prison sentence of up to 12 months.
Felonies vs. Misdemeanors in Ohio
Felonies are more serious crimes than misdemeanors in all states. In general, states divide crimes into the two separate classifications based on their potential punishments. In many states, crimes that can send a defendant to jail for a year or more are termed felonies, while those with a maximum potential prison term of less than a year are misdemeanors.
Under Ohio state laws, the classification criteria for criminal charges are slightly different. First, the code states directly that any crime that is classified as a misdemeanor in the statute describing the crime is a misdemeanor, while any crime classified as a felony in the statute is a felony. That makes sense, although not every crime is described by one of those terms in the codes.
Ohio Laws About Potential Penalties
In that case, where the description of an offense is not labeled in the language of the statute as a misdemeanor or a felony, the maximum potential punishment rule applies.
Ohio Revised Code (ORC) Section 2901.02 specifies:
- (D) Regardless of the penalty that may be imposed, any offense specifically classified as a felony is a felony, and any offense specifically classified as a misdemeanor is a misdemeanor.
- (E) Any offense not specifically classified is a felony if imprisonment for more than one year may be imposed as a penalty.
- (F) Any offense not specifically classified is a misdemeanor if imprisonment for not more than one year may be imposed as a penalty.
What about crimes that can result only in a fine? These are a less severe type of Ohio crime termed infractions.
Categorization of Ohio Felonies
Ohio criminal law sorts felony offenses into five different levels according to the seriousness of the crime. Just like first-degree murder is more serious than second-degree murder, first-degree felonies are the "bad boys" of the bunch. They are very serious crimes that include murder, rape and kidnapping.
It should be noted that particularly heinous crimes are not included in the degree system and have their own sentencing rules. Unclassified felonies like aggravated murder have mandatory prison terms of at least 20 years and can carry a life sentence. The maximum fine is $25,000.
Second, third, fourth, and fifth degree felonies are all serious crimes, but less serious than unclassified felonies or first-degree felonies. As the level of a felony gets higher, the seriousness of the crime and the potential penalties go down.
In Ohio, a fifth-degree felony is the least serious crime in the felony class. Typical fifth-degree felony crimes include receiving stolen property. Ohio's state laws set out a specific sentencing range that corresponds to the severity of the degree. The crime is only slightly more serious than a serious misdemeanor.
Examples of Class-Five Felonies
Ohio fifth-degree felonies include crimes that are serious but that do not result in serious bodily harm or death of another individual. What type of crimes fall into this felony category? Typical fifth-degree felonies in Ohio include:
- Assaulting a police officer.
- Assaulting a teacher.
- Assaulting someone in jail.
- Violating a protective order.
- Theft of money or items valued between $100,000 and $500,000.
- Receiving stolen property.
- Trafficking in illegal drugs.
- Possession of more than 200 grams, but less than 1000 grams of marijuana.
- Breaking and entering.
Crime and Punishment in Ohio
Anyone convicted of a felony in Ohio can expect more prison time, higher fines and more community sanctions than those convicted of misdemeanors. The general range of sentencing for the different levels of felonies include:
- First-degree felonies: Prison term of between three and 11 years and a maximum of $20,000 in fines.
- Second-degree felonies: Prison term of between two and eight years and a maximum of $15,000 in fines.
- Third-degree felonies: Prison term of between nine months and three years and a maximum of $10,000 in fines.
- Fourth-degree felonies: Prison term of between six months and 18 months and a maximum of $5,000 in fines.
- Fifth-degree felonies: Prison term of between six months and 12 months and a maximum of $2,500 in fines.
Class 5 felony convictions in Ohio are taken seriously by the courts and by the legislature. Although judges are given some discretion, the law provides that a conviction of a felony of the fifth degree in Ohio must result in either a jail sentence of between six and 12 months or probation of six to 12 months, plus a fine.
Presumption in Favor of Probation
There is a presumption in favor of probation for a felony of the fifth degree, however. An Ohio judge can only order someone convicted of a felony fifth degree to prison if aggravating circumstances exist that make the sentence appropriate.
For example, a defendant who is convicted of a fifth-degree felony in Ohio may be sent to prison by the court if they undertook the crime while carrying or using a weapon.
Impact of Aggravating Circumstances
Likewise, prior convictions can weigh in favor of jail time. So can the commission of an offense by an organized crime syndicate, the commission of a sex offense, or a fifth-degree felony committed by a person in a public office or position of trust, such as a school teacher or parent. When there are no aggravating circumstances, the judge usually sentences the offender to probation and community service.
Anyone accused of a fifth-degree felony in Ohio should consult with a criminal defense attorney. Some offer a free consultation the first time they meet with a potential client.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.