Ohio classifies felony offenses into categories: first, second, third, fourth, and fifth degree felonies. First degree felonies are the most serious category, while fifth degree felonies are the least serious. Additionally, Ohio has a number of felony offenses that are not identified by degree. Anyone convicted of an Ohio felony faces a prison sentence commensurate with the degree of the felony involved, and, unless a particular Ohio statute provides for a different sentence, each felony category has a specified sentencing range.
Less serious crimes (misdemeanors) are punished less harshly, usually by jail time or fines. For information on Ohio misdemeanors, see Ohio Misdemeanor Crimes by Class and Sentences.
Under a new Ohio law, most first and second degree felonies committed on or after March 22, 2019 are punishable by an indefinite sentence (also known as an “indeterminate sentence”). That means that defendants who are convicted of a first or second degree felony, and not subject life imprisonment, will receive a prison sentence consisting of a range of years. Here’s how the process works in Ohio.
First, the judge will choose a minimum sentence of one of the following prison terms:
Then the judge will add an additional 50 percent of that minimum prison term to get the maximum term. For example, Sam was convicted of first degree kidnapping. The judge in his case sets a minimum term of ten years in prison. After adding 50 percent of that term, or five years, the judge sets a maximum prison sentence of 15 years, arriving at an indefinite sentence of ten to 15 years in prison.
In addition to a prison sentence, a conviction for a first or second degree felony is also punishable by a fine. For first degree felonies, the maximum fine is $20,000. Second degree felony convictions can result in fines of as much as $15,000.
Ohio’s sentencing laws for first and second degree felonies are very complicated. Different sentencing ranges may apply if you are convicted of multiple felonies, or if the crimes were committed before the new law went into effect. Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in your area to find out how the law applies to your specific case.
(Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §§ 2929.14, 2929.144, 2929.18 (2019).)
Most third degree felonies are punishable by a definite (or “determinate”) prison term of nine, 12, 18, 24, or 36 months. However, certain third degree felonies are subject to a longer definite prison term of 12, 18, 24, 30, 42, 48, 54, or 60 months. Third degree felonies punishable by the longer term include:
In addition to a prison sentence, a conviction for a third degree felony can also result in a fine of up to $10,000. (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §§ 2929.14, 2929.18 (2019).)
In general, fourth degree felonies in Ohio are punishable by a definite prison term of six, seven, eight, nine, ten, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, or 18 months; a fine of as much as $5,000; or both. Vehicular assault and grand theft of a motor vehicle are examples of fourth degree felonies. (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §§ 2929.14, 2929.18 (2019).)
Typically in Ohio, fifth degree felonies are punishable by a definite prison term of six, seven, eight, nine, ten, 11, or 12 months; a fine of up to $2,500; or both. Breaking and entering and forgery are examples of fifth degree felonies. (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §§ 2929.14, 2929.18 (2019).)
Murder and aggravated murder, the two most serious felonies in Ohio, are not categorized by degree. Instead, the law provides specific penalties for each of these crimes. For someone convicted of aggravated murder, the potential penalty ranges from death to life in prison with or without the possibility of parole, and a fine of up to $25,000. For someone convicted of murder, the sentence is an indefinite term of 15 years to life in prison and a possible fine of as much as $15,000. (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §§ 2903.01, 2903.02, 2929.02 (2019).)
Ohio also imposes mandatory prison terms in some felony cases, including aggravated murder, murder, rape or attempted rape of a child younger than 13, possession of a firearm while committing a felony, and many others. In such cases, a court must impose a specific penalty or penalty range. (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §§ 2929.13 (2019).)
For example, someone convicted of aggravated murder must serve at least 20 years in prison before becoming eligible for parole; while someone who uses, displays, or brandishes a firearm during the commission of certain crimes faces a mandatory minimum of three years in prison.
If prosecutors want to charge someone in Ohio with a crime, they must first make sure that the legal time limit within which to do so has not expired. This time limit, known as a “statute of limitations,” gives prosecutors a limited amount of time in which to file criminal charges. If the time allowed under the statute of limitations has lapsed, prosecutors cannot file charges in that case.
While there is no statute of limitations for murders committed in Ohio, most other felonies have a six- or 20-year limitation period. (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2901.13 (2019).)
A felony charge is nothing to take lightly. If you suspect you are being investigated for a felony in Ohio, or have already been charged, you should consult with an experienced local defense attorney as soon as possible. Your ability to defend yourself against the charges depends on receiving advice from an attorney who not only understands Ohio law, but who also has experience representing criminal clients in area courts. If you make a decision about your case without first consulting an experienced lawyer, you could damage your chances of presenting the best possible legal defense.