Tuesday, May 08, 2001

What makes charge a misdemeanor

Grand jury had to weigh mental state

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        One of the Hamilton County grand jury's toughest jobs last week was deciding whether Cincinnati Police Officer Stephen Roach was “reckless” or “negligent” when he shot and killed an unarmed man.

        Although the difference may seem insignificant, prosecutors say it means everything in a court of law.

        If Officer Roach had been indicted on a felony charge of reckless homicide, he would have faced up to five years in prison. Instead, he was indicted on a charge of negligent homicide, a misdemeanor punishable by no more than six months in the county jail.

        To decide which charge was appropriate, the grand jurors had to determine Officer Roach's mental state at the time of the shooting.

        Under Ohio law, negligent homicide is appropriate when the accused shows a “substantial lapse of due care” that leads to the death of another.

        Reckless homicide is appropriate when the suspect shows “heedless indifference to the consequences” of his actions or “perversely disregards a known risk.”

        Both charges suggest the death was, in some way, accidental. But reckless homicide indicates the offender bears more responsibility for the fatality.

        The grand jury also could have considered more serious felony charges, including aggravated murder and manslaughter.

        Those charges would have required the grand jury to conclude that Officer Roach “purposely” caused a death with prior calculation or “knowingly” caused a death while under a sudden passion.

        “Murder is not appropriate in this case,” Prosecutor Mike Allen said. “I think the grand jury made the right call in this case.”

        To make their decision, the grand jurors heard testimony from 20 witnesses and reviewed dozens of photographs, statements, reports and documents related to the case.

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