Ohio Criminal Law Basics

Crimes in Ohio are classified as either felonies or misdemeanors. Felonies are more serious crimes punishable by a maximum sentence of imprisonment for a term of one year or more. In Ohio, felonies are brought before a judge of the Court of Common Pleas. Misdemeanors are defined in Ohio as offenses other than felonies that are punishable by imprisonment for a term of less than one year. In Ohio, misdemeanors are brought before a judge of a county Municipal Court.

Persons charged with a felony have certain procedural rights that do not exist for misdemeanors. Among them is the right to a probable cause hearing, a hearing to determine if there was probable cause to arrest the suspect, within 48 hours of the arrest. Also, felony charges are typically brought before a grand jury. The grand jury is a collection of people much like a jury in a courtroom. Their job is to determine whether there is enough evidence to formally bring charges against (or “indict”) a person, reduce the charges to some other offenses, or ignore the charges completely.

Felonies and misdemeanors are often referred to in an abbreviated fashion. For example, a felony of the first degree is sometimes referred to as an “F-1”, while a misdemeanor of the fourth degree would be a “M-4.” With certain restrictions (murders, rape, OVI offenses, etc.) the following are the general guidelines for jail time and fines in the State of Ohio:



Expungement is a legal process in which an individual asks a court with jurisdiction over a conviction (or non-conviction) to “seal” that individual’s criminal record with respect to that offense. Even though the record is sealed, there are certain limited circumstances in which the conviction can be considered by others. However, most times an expunged criminal conviction record becomes erased in the eyes of society.

Since a judge is not obligated to grant an expungement, many people hire criminal defense attorneys to help them through the process and to represent them at the expungement hearing.
In Ohio, an individual qualifies for an expungement hearing before a judge if all of the following apply:

  • The conviction was the first and only offense in that person’s criminal history in any jurisdiction whatsoever (not just Ohio);
  • The individual has not been convicted of any other crime since;
  • The offense is not specifically excluded from expungement, such as convictions when the offender is subject to a mandatory prison term; convictions of a felony of the first or second degree, convictions for certain sex offenses, convictions for certain driving offenses, convictions of certain offenses involving violence, convictions of certain offenses when the victim was under the age of eighteen, and certain bail forfeitures;
  • Time has passed (for felonies, three years from the time the case has been completed, including community control; for misdemeanors, one year from the time the case has been completed, including community control);
  • You pay a non-refundable processing fee.

An individual can qualify for the expungement of a non-conviction (ignored case, dismissed case, verdict of “not guilty”, etc.) if it was the first and only offense in any jurisdiction whatsoever and that individual has not subsequently been convicted of any other crime. There is no fee to have a non-conviction expunged. Many people in this situation feel strongly about having this blemish expunged from their otherwise spotless record.

If you think you might qualify for expungement of a conviction or non-conviction, contact a L&N attorney at once to discuss your case.


A bond allows one arrested and suspected of committing a crime to pay something of value (usually money) in exchange for release while a case is pending. The person promises to appear in court for all scheduled criminal proceedings or risk having the money taken by the court. Courts consider various factors when considering what bond to impose in a case, including

  • The seriousness of the crime;
  • The accused’s criminal record;
  • The danger that the accused’s release might pose to the community; and
  • The accused’s ties to family, community, and employment.