The General Division of the Common Pleas Court is comprised of both the Criminal and Civil Docket. These cases under law have to be handled by the Judge, with the exception of arraignments which can be heard by a magistrate. These cases can often be quite complex and time consuming.
The Court is responsible for ensuring that everyone who comes before it is treated in a fair and impartial manner. The Criminal Division is responsible for hearing all felony level offenses that occur in Morrow County. As such, anyone who is indicted by the Grand Jury will have the case heard in the Common Pleas Court. These cases can range from low fourth and fifth degree felonies for theft, to the higher first and second degree felonies for murder or rape offenses.
All criminal defendants are entitled to the right of due process under the United States Constitution. They are afforded the right to counsel if they cannot afford it, they are afforded to the right to a speedy trial, and they are also afforded the right to a reasonable bond. These are rights that are guaranteed to everyone under the Constitution of the United States. The Constitution is the very foundation, along with the Bill of Rights. These are directives that the Court must follow.
With the increase of population the Common Pleas Court has seen an increase in the number of felony indictments and the cases that must be heard by the Judge. It should be noted that there can be time constraints for these types of cases.
Many factors influence the Court's caseloads. Changes by the State Legislature over the past ten years, especially Senate Bill 2, have altered sentencing and penalties, and have resulted in enhanced crimes, such as in the felony laws of domestic violence, driving under the influence of alcohol, fleeing from law enforcement, and assault on a law enforcement officer. Sexual predator determinations and various other measures have increased workloads for Court personnel. In 1998, when Senate Bill 2 was adopted the essence of taking care of local problems locally came into effect. Under the new law and the presumptions of sentencing an individual charged with a fourth or fifth degree felony would not be sentenced to prison. In the case of a third degree felony there is no presumption for sentencing. For a felony of the first or second degree, the presumption is that the defendant would be sentenced to the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction for incarceration.
The Court has seen a tremendous increase in the number of filings in the General Division alone during the past six years. In 1998, 323 new cases were filed in the Morrow County Common Pleas Court, General Division, not including Domestic Relations matters. In 2003, 701 new cases were filed, resulting in an increase of 117 percent. The bottom line factor to consider as the cause of the increase in the number of new cases being filed is the increase in population.
The Civil Division of the Court is responsible for hearing any case that involves personal injury as result of an accident, lawsuits, garnishments, foreclosure action, etc. The Civil Division is the sole responsibility of the Judge. Magistrates cannot be utilized in these cases. This forum provides a place were citizens of the county can bring their difference to be heard in a civil and mature way.