Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Justice Donnelly Shares Experiences, Suggestions with Criminal Sentencing Commission

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Michael Donnelly was drawn to the legal profession by the desire to make a difference. After 14 years as a trial court judge, now he’s even more immersed in the process as a member of the state’s high court.

Last week, Justice Donnelly spoke before the Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission in downtown Columbus. The group – comprised of judges, prosecutors, public defenders, law enforcement, legislators, and the executive branch – meets regularly to assess and help enhance the criminal sentencing process in the state.

“I always believed right from the start that judges, attorneys, all stakeholders have an obligation to work together, to make the system better for the next generation,” said Justice Donnelly.

During his 12 years as an assistant prosecutor and civil suit lawyer, he experienced all kinds of outcomes, but nothing impacted him more than when he sentenced his first defendant as a Cuyahoga County common pleas judge.

“I still remember the physical reaction that took place on his face,” said Justice Donnelly. “It really hit me right then, the power of what we do as judges in changing and having an effect on people’s lives.”

Since then, he’s stood up and been on the frontline, speaking to those who take part in these pivotal decisions. On top of serving on multiple commissions and committees – like the Ohio Supreme Court Death Penalty Task Force – he’s also been a faculty member of the Ohio Judicial College, teaching both attorneys and judges at numerous continuing-legal-education seminars on issues of criminal justice reform.

During his speech, Justice Donnelly shared what he’s learned behind the bench – such as the merits of eliminating negotiations between lawyers in his chambers and having all discussions in open court. He also presented multiple suggestions to help get information to those who need it. One example was a statewide database tracking all criminal cases.

“So advocates – prosecutors and defense counsel – can go back and look at cases that are similar in nature,” Justice Donnelly said.

Another recommendation was to analyze the liberties judges have when it comes to sentencing, particularly why some judges accept sentences agreed to by a prosecutor and the defense, and why some don’t.

While there were a variety of issues and concerns he presented to the commission, they were all driven by one common goal: to maximize accessibility and visibility of criminal case proceedings for all citizens to see and understand.

“Transparency is the most important ingredient in our criminal justice process,” Justice Donnelly said.