Just about everybody knows that double jeopardy means that somebody cannot be convicted of the same crime twice. However, not every situation is that simple, prompting the question, “What is double jeopardy?”
Once the jury is empanelled in a jury trial or the first witness is called in a bench trial, double jeopardy attaches. If the trial ends in a not guilty verdict, the state cannot appeal or retry the case. However, the state can appeal a conviction. The double jeopardy bar does not prevent the state and federal government from successive prosecutions for the same act. This is why you may hear about the federal government stepping in after an acquittal in state court. This doctrine was upheld by the United States Supreme Court in Heath v. Alabama, 474 U.S. 82 (1985).
Expungements in Ohio are available to more people due to the expansion of the expungement eligibility requirements. Under the old law, a “first offender” was defined as a person with only one conviction on their record. The new law expanded the definition of “first offender” to an "eligible offender." An eligible offender is someone that “has not more than one felony conviction, not more than two misdemeanor convictions if the convictions are not of the same offense, or not more than one felony conviction and one misdemeanor conviction.” Minor misdemeanors and minor traffic offenses were not, and still are not, considered convictions when considering eligibility for expungement. Expungement can also be referred to as “sealing a conviction.”
The Ohio Legislature reduces felony sentences for a number of offenses. After years of increasing and imposing mandatory sentences, the Ohio Legislature has pulled back their efforts in order to focus on treatment and rehabilitation and reduce prison crowding. One convicted of a fourth or fifth degree felony cannot be sent to prison unless certain criteria are met. The maximum sentence for many third degree felonies have been reduced from five to three years.
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