COLUMBUS — When a multi-defendant capital crime occurs in a county with limited resources, local officials may be unable to seek justice because of the extraordinary cost of prosecuting such a case. Last week, Ohio Auditor Dave Yost was joined by Sen. Bob Peterson and Rep.Shane Wilkin to call for legislation to address the financial strain on a community brought on by cases involving multiple victims and defendants.
“The April 2016 capital case involving the murders of eight family members in Pike County illustrates this problem that could occur anywhere in Ohio,” said Yost during a news conference at the Ohio Statehouse. “Justice should not be dependent on the ability of the county government to cover the costs of prosecution and defense.” Six people have been charged in connection with the Rhoden family homicides in Pike County.
“An extreme situation like the Pike county murders can impose heavy cost and staffing burdens on small local governments,” said Sen. Peterson (R-Washington Court House). “We greatly appreciate the tireless efforts of Pike County law enforcement, local officials, and Attorney General DeWine to bring this case to justice and it’s important for us to have a conversation about how the state can best support them in unusual cases like this.”
“Few, if any counties in Ohio, could afford the costs associated with seeking justice in a capital case of this magnitude. Law and order must be supported by the General Assembly, and the people of this state expect an impartial and comprehensive trial,” said Representative Wilkin (R-Hillsboro). “I am proud to work with Attorney General – Elect Yost and Senator Peterson on legislation that will ensure the rights protected under the Constitution are supported regardless of a political subdivision’s financial standing.”
“When the State seeks death as the punishment, it is necessary for the State to properly fund the defense so that Ohioans have confidence in a fair and just outcome. Justice can only be achieved when the process is fair and not limited by underfunding,” said Ohio Public Defender Tim Young. “Seven factually innocent individuals have been exonerated from Ohio’s Death Row. This legislation will move us closer to avoiding those failures in the future.”
Highlights of the proposed legislation:
- Provides a statutory method for the State Controlling Board to authorize expenditure of state funds from the unappropriated balance of the general fund upon joint application of the State Public Defender and the Ohio Attorney General;
- This process would be narrowly tailored to only capital cases with multiple defendants and/or multiple victims, when both offices agree that extraordinary conditions require state assistance;
- The joint application would set out the necessity for the funds, with a good faith estimate of costs. The estimate should not be so detailed as to disclose trial strategy of either side;
- Funds would flow to the local government through the Public Defender and the Attorney General, as appropriate, and all other processes would remain the same. Prosecution authority remains with the local county prosecutor, not with the Attorney General. The trial judge would retain authority to review and approve expenditures of the money approved by the State Controlling Board.