Wednesday, May 09, 2001

Spotlight on municipal court for Roach case

Officer faces two misdemeanors in fatal shooting of Timothy Thomas

By Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati police Officer Stephen Roach's case in Hamilton County Municipal Court promises to be one of the most closely-watched in court history.

        Normally the place where citizens fight speeding tickets, drunken driving charges, and other less-than-notable infractions, it could soon take center stage as thousands of Cincinnatians await the outcome of this case.

        A Hamilton County grand jury's decision to indict Officer Roach on two misdemeanor charges — negligent homicide and obstructing official business — stemming from the shooting death of Timothy Thomas, means the four-year veteran will be prosecuted by the city solicitor's office.

        If convicted, the officer could face a maximum six months in jail on the negligent homicide charge, and 90 days on the obstruction charge.

        All misdemeanors committed inside city limits are prosecuted by the city. The county handles misdemeanors committed outside Cincinnati and all felony charges.

        Much more fast-paced than Common Pleas Court, where more serious felony cases are tried, Hamilton County Municipal Court judges can hear between 50 and 100 cases daily.

        It is the nature of the charges that facilitate the speed, said Municipal Court Judge Guy C. Guckenberger, who maintains the court's Web site.

        He is one of 14 municipal court judges in the Hamilton County court system. Cases usually are randomly assigned to them.

        The process is the same in both courts.

        After someone is arrested, he appears for a bond hearing, where a judge determines the dollar amount the defendant would need to pay to stay out of jail. Then the defendant is scheduled for an arraignment hearing, where a plea is expected.

        In municipal court, defendants can plead guilty, not guilty or no-contest.

        If a person pleads guilty, a judge can sentence a defendant right away.

        If the plea is not guilty, a trial date is set.

        Most municipal court trials are decided by a judge. Jury trials are rare and are only conducted at the request of a defendant.

        The courtrooms of municipal judges are smaller than those of common pleas judges, said Hamilton County Court Administrator Mike Walton.

        In municipal court, the toughest misdemeanor charge carries a maximum penalty of six months in county jail. Those convicted of felonies, for the most part, go to state prisons.

        The only time a felony case appears in a municipal court is during a case's initial entry into the court system.

        Municipal judges preside over arraignments and determine preliminary bond amounts. Once these steps are completed, cases with more serious charges are kicked up to common pleas court.


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