Analysis: Ohio courts seeing fewer trials

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- The number of criminal and civil cases that go to trial in Ohio has reached a historic low, according to a newspaper analysis.

Based on numbers from the Ohio Supreme Court, The Columbus Dispatch (http://bit.ly/1aW2zpE ) figured that just 2.5 percent of criminal cases in the state's common pleas courts were resolved by going to trial in 2012, the most recent year for which statistics are available.

Experts are citing a number of reasons for the low trial rates, including the escalating cost of taking civil cases to trial and tougher sentencing laws that make criminal defendants more willing to take plea deals.

Common pleas courts handle felony crimes and civil disputes involving more than $15,000. Trial rates are similar in municipal courts, which handle misdemeanor crime and traffic cases and civil disputes involving $15,000 or less.

The trial rate has been declining for decades. In 1980, 11.2 percent of criminal cases and 16.2 percent of civil cases went to trial in the state's common pleas courts, state Supreme Court spokesman Chris Davey said.

Stephen Chappelear, a Columbus litigator and a past president of the Columbus and state bar associations, said lawsuits are so expensive that "it is rarely cost-effective to go all the way through to trial," he said. "Overall, it's a good thing if people can resolve their disputes without the trauma, expense and uncertainty of a trial."

Some of the decline in civil trials is the result of settlements hammered out by a growing number of trained mediators, a profession that barely existed a decade ago, Chappelear said.

Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien attributes the decline in criminal trials in part to thorough police investigations that move defendants toward plea agreements.

Plea agreements, O'Brien said, are an effort "to accomplish what we would have accomplished at trial."

Columbus defense attorney Jonathan Tyack said plea deals have become more attractive to defendants as state legislators enacted laws to create mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes.

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Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com