Indictments return to Butler County as grand jury reconvenes with coronavirus precautions

Stock photo of a gavel.
Stock photo of a gavel.

A Butler County grand jury was convened and began hearing cases earlier this month for the first time in two months due to coronavirus concerns.

The Ohio Supreme Court has extended the amount of time to litigate a case without waiving rights to a speedy trial for those charged during the pandemic. The 90-day period usually begins at the time of arrest. An additional 80 days has been added by the state’s highest court due to the circumstances, according to Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser.

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In Ohio, people must be indicted by a grand jury before being tried on a felony charge that can send them to prison for years. That is not the case for lesser or misdemeanor charges that are handled by municipal and area courts and carry at most a sentence in a local jail for a few months, according to Gmoser.

Grand jurors come from the same pool of registered voters as jurors who hear trials. Grand jurors serve for three months in Butler County.

Nine citizens sit on a grand jury as opposed to 12 in at trial jury. Unlike a criminal trial jury, an indictment is secured when seven of the nine vote for the charge, returning what is know in the legal world as a “true bill.”

It typically takes a few weeks after a case is sent from a lower court for a grand jury to consider that case, unless the prosecutor chooses to present it directly, which happens in a handful of cases.

A Butler County grand jury considered cases through the end of March, but concerns about the logistics of safe social distancing and the age demographics of many in the jury pool put them on hold, Gmoser said.

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“We have a situation that we can’t bring grand jurors together without exposing them,” Gmoser said last month, noting the grand jury room is small and justice calls for more than an abbreviated presentation on a video meeting. “It is just impossible to protect the grand jurors at this time.”

On June 1, a grand jury was seated and case presentation began again, but in a new location in a visiting judge’s courtroom on the fourth floor of the court wing of the Government Services Center. The location provides for social distancing and more security. Jurors, like all other who pass through security, have their temperature taken by a infrared camera.

“Cases are now progressing through again,” Gmoser said.

The prosecutor said he will request the use of the current location permanently or another location in the court wing for security reasons. The grand jury room that has been used for years in not part of a secured area of the building.

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