This study examined whether Ohio's sentencing reform, which curtailed judicial sentencing discretion, resulted in significant changes in prosecutorial decisions related to indictment severity, dropped charges, charge reductions, and overall plea bargains.
Ohio's 1996 sentencing reform under Senate Bill 2 provides for new presumptive sentencing guidelines designed to reduce disparity in sentences of imprisonment as well as in the length of imprisonment. The new scheme, however, still permits a wider range of judicial discretion, i.e., sentencing options, compared to other States with more structured sentencing, thus creating the possibility of broader discrepancies in the length of imprisonment compared to other States. The current analysis focused on whether the change in Ohio sentencing schemes under the reform corresponded with significantly lower odds of being indicted on first and second-degree felonies (levels for which prison sentences were mandated for second offenses and for which imprisonment was favored for first offenses). The analysis also tested whether the guidelines coincided with significant increases in the odds of all charges being dropped after indictment, guilty pleas with agreements from prosecutors, some charges being dropped between indictment and guilty plea, and reductions to lesser charges. The study encompassed 5,648 suspects from 24 Ohio counties, which included the 6 most urban counties in the State. This post-guideline sample included persons indicted between January 1 and December 31, 1997. Data were collected from prosecutors' and felony probation offices. The sentencing reform legislation apparently had a significant yet modest impact in increasing the likelihood of charge reduction, but there were no other indications that the reforms had resulted in substantive extra-legal disparities in case dispositions due to prosecutorial discretion. 7 tables, 42 references, and appended listing of legal measures and extra-legal measures considered