I am taking this opportunity to encourage all Ohio residents to vote “No” on Ohio Issue 1. The attempt to pass Issue 1 is being financed by out of state billionaires such as George Soros and Mark Zuckerberg. Why these billionaires are attempting to pass Issue 1 is unclear. However, what is clear is that passing Issue 1 would be a disaster for Ohio.
Issue 1 will result in the following:
ISSUE 1 ELIMINATES FELONY DRUG POSSESSION
1. All drug possession felonies of the 4th or 5th degree would be classified as misdemeanors. Therefore, the offender would not be eligible for a prison sentence. In addition, an offender could not be placed in the county jail unless the offender is convicted of drug possession three separate times within a 24-month period. This includes cases involving possession of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines, and fentanyl.
At this point, everyone is aware that fentanyl is an extremely dangerous drug. Miniscule amounts of fentanyl have the potential to kill literally thousands of people. Issue 1 would allow people to possess this extremely dangerous drug without any possibility of incarceration.
ISSUE 1 ELIMINATES FELONY SUPERVISION FOR VIOLENT AND/OR SEX OFFENDERS
2. Criminal defendants who are currently on probation could no longer receive a prison sentence for violating the terms of their probation. This includes any offender currently on felony probation, not just drug offenders. Therefore, Issue 1 would allow both violent offenders and sex offenders to refuse to complete counseling or even meet with their probation officers. More importantly, these offenders could not be sent to prison for having unauthorized contact with their victims.
ISSUE 1 ALLOWS VIOLENT CRIMINALS AND SEX OFFENDERS TO BE RELEASED FROM PRISON
3. In an effort to empty our state prisons, Issue 1 also allows the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to reduce prison sentences up to 25%. The only requirement for this reduction would be that the offender complete some sort of rehabilitation program. According to Issue 1, the only exceptions would be anyone convicted or murder, rape or child molestation.
Whoever drafted Issue 1 clearly does not understand Ohio law. While murder and rape are defined by the Ohio Revised Code, there is no criminal statute for the crime of “child molestation”. Instead, these types of crimes are addressed by various other criminal charges, most of which are ignored by Issue 1. Because of this, a great number of sex offenders would be eligible for the 25-percent reduction.
Offenders convicted of gross sexual imposition, unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, and possession and/or distribution of child pornography would be eligible for the 25-percent reduction. This illustrates how poorly Issue 1 was drafted with little or no thought to its actual consequences.
In addition, offenders who are convicted of voluntary manslaughter, felonious assault, aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery, and kidnapping could all be released early. It’s important to note that the people making these decisions would be not elected, nor could they be second-guessed. Neither judges nor any elected official would have any input. Sadly, even the victims who suffered at the hands of these individuals could not prevent an early release.
Issue 1 has been advertised as simply a way to allow drug offenders to avoid a felony conviction and get the treatment that they need. As anyone can see, there is a great deal more to Issue 1 than just simply trying to get drug offenders treatment. Violent offenders, as well as sex offenders, could no longer be strictly supervised by the Courts. Further, they could also be given early release from prison without any input from the Courts or victims.
Obviously, Issue 1 undermines law enforcement’s ability to reduce crime. For example, many drug trafficking cases do not involve offenders being caught in the act of selling drugs. Often traffickers are caught possessing the drugs prior to actually carrying out a sale. Drugs such as heroin and fentanyl are usually sold in very small doses, which would result in a felony of 4th or 5th degree.
Under Issue 1, traffickers caught prior to the act of actually selling drugs could not be sent to prison. This creates a “loophole” in the law that would be benefit criminals. Drug dealers could simply make certain that they have a limited amount of drugs upon them at all times. Therefore, as long as they are not caught in the act, they cannot go to jail.
Over the last three years, Crawford County has enjoyed an unprecedented reduction in criminal behavior. From 2014 to 2017, burglaries and break-ins have been reduced by more than 50 percent. Robberies have been reduced by almost 70%. And, overall crime has been reduced by approximately 50%. All of this success will be put in danger if Issue 1 passes.
The truly unfortunate aspect of Issue 1, however, is that it will not accomplish its goal of getting drug offenders more treatment. The idea that judges throw first time drug offenders in prison is completely false. In fact, Ohio law prohibits first time drug users from being placed in prison. Instead, all first time drug offenders receive probation with a requirement that they complete a drug treatment program.
In Crawford County, the type of treatment that an offender will receive can vary. It can include outpatient counseling, inpatient treatment, or participation in a special program designed to rehabilitate drug offenders called the ISAT (Intensive Supervision and Treatment) program. The ISAT program attempts to not only deal with drug addiction, but also deals with gaining employment and developing life skills.
The most important thing that the public needs to understand is that drug offenders very rarely enter a treatment program voluntarily. The simple truth is that over 90 percent of the people who are currently in treatment are only there to avoid prison or some other type of punishment.
Despite being forced, many people do get the help that they need in order to deal with their drug addiction. In particular, the ISAT program has resulted in many young people overcoming their addiction and living sober, productive lives. Those who have overcome addiction almost always tell me that if it was not for the threat of punishment they would never have gotten the help that they needed. In other words, sometimes you can lead a horse to water and make him drink.
In addition, most treatment programs require that a person suffering from addiction refrain from using drugs for a period of time prior to entering the program. This is referred to as detoxification. Due to the fact that this is a stressful and painful experience, getting addicts to voluntarily go through detoxification is practically impossible. Detoxification almost always requires some type of incarceration.
Finally, many of the offenders who are currently involved in Court supervised treatment programs have recently overdosed on heroin or fentanyl. Getting people who overdose off the street through incarceration is extremely important. This allows the Court to make certain that the person does not continue to use drugs. It also allows the detoxification process to take place and sets the stage for future treatment.
Over the years, many parents have actually thanked me for incarcerating their drug addicted child. They tell me that for first time in months that they are able sleep without worrying about their child dying. If you talk to these parents, they will tell you that their child could have never overcome addiction without first being incarcerated.
If Issue 1 passes, the treatment programs that I have described will, for all intents and purposes, disappear. The vast majority of the people involved in the programs are drug offenders with 4th and 5th degree felonies. Without the threat of incarceration, drug offenders will not get the help that they need. They will remain trapped in the downward spiral of addiction until they commit a more serious crime or suffer from a fatal overdose.
Throughout the State of Ohio, almost all judges have treatment programs similar to those in Crawford County. I have spoken with my fellow judges and they indicated that if Issue 1 passes, their treatment programs would be rendered ineffective or non-existent. In other words, passing Issue 1 would result in less treatment and more deaths.
Obviously, the lives of young people who are struggling with addiction are more important than money. However, the proponents of Issue 1 claim that money is a very important issue. In fact, they have tried to argue that passing Issue 1 will result in significant savings to the State of Ohio. However, the Ohio Office of Budget Management has released a report indicating that the claims made by proponents of Issue 1 are greatly exaggerated. In addition, any savings by the State of Ohio would be a result of simply passing the costs down to the county level.
To my knowledge, just about every Judge, Prosecutor and member of law enforcement vigorously opposes Issue 1. These are the people who fight the war against addiction on a daily basis. They know what is effective, and what is not. Their goal is to reduce crime, protect the general public and reduce overdose deaths. Issue 1 is a poorly conceived, badly written, feel good amendment that serves as an impediment to all of those goals.
If Issue 1 passes, those suffering from addiction will be left to fend for themselves. Judges, Prosecutors and law enforcement would have to impotently watch as treatment vanishes, and deaths increase. Crime rates will also increase subjecting innocent victims to burglary, theft, and other drug related offenses. Since Issue 1 is a Constitutional Amendment, fixing these problems will be nearly impossible. This means that more innocent people will be victimized, more addicts will be lost, and communities will suffer.
We the voters of Ohio have the opportunity to avert the disasters of Issue 1. We can tell the proponents of Issue 1 that we do not want more crime. We can tell them that we do not want less treatment. And, we can tell them that we do not want to see more young people lose their lives. Please join me, other judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement in voting “No” on Issue 1.
Honorable Sean E. Leuthold
Crawford County Common Pleas Judge