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ACLU 'unequivocally' opposed to swing state Ohio's ballot initiative tying bail amounts to public safety risk

Opponent and proponents of an Ohio ballot initiative that would tie bail amounts to public safety concerns are clashing ahead of the planned November vote.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio has said it is "unequivocally" opposed to a proposed amendment to Ohio's state constitution that would change the bail process for individuals facing criminal charges, a position that sharply clashes with those of the amendment's proponents just weeks ahead of its appearance on the November midterm election ballot.

According to the text of the initiative, officially called Issue 1, or the Determining Bail Amount Based on Public Safety Amendment, it would "require Ohio courts, when setting the amount of bail, to consider public safety, including the seriousness of the offense, as well as a person's criminal record, the likelihood a person will return to court, and any other factor the Ohio General Assembly may prescribe."

The initiative would also remove the requirement for the Ohio Supreme Court to determine the procedures for establishing the amount and conditions of bail.

"We at the ACLU of Ohio oppose Issue 1 unequivocally," Patrick Higgins, the ACLU of Ohio's policy counsel, told Fox News Digital. "We know that cash bail does nothing to keep us safe and extracts wealth from our neighbors who bear the heaviest weight of our criminal legal system. Instead of promoting public safety, reliance on cash bail allows the wealthy to purchase their freedom while other legally innocent people sit in jail before their trial date."


"We’re standing against Issue 1 with a coalition of directly-impacted people and other experts who know that this is nothing more than fearmongering. We’re demanding true bail reform, and Issue 1 is no such thing," he added.

In an exclusive statement to Fox News Digital, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, staunchly opposed the ACLU's position, stressing the importance for judges to have the ability to consider a defendant's risk to the public when setting bail amounts.

"We have to take action to allow judges to once again do what they have always been able to do and that is take into consideration the safety of the community in setting bail and setting bond," he said.

Republican state Sen. Theresa Gavarone, an outspoken proponent of the initiative, sent a statement to Fox News Digital slamming a recent decision by the Ohio Supreme Court that upheld a lower court's reduction in bail for a defendant accused of murder, despite a number of people expressing concern for their safety if the defendant was released from custody.

"The decision rendered by the Ohio Supreme Court in Dubose v. McGuffey is quite possibly the worst one I have seen in my years as an attorney because it has threatened the safety of all Ohioans — including law enforcement," she said.

"Issue 1 simply presents Ohioans with the opportunity to reverse that decision and give judges across our state the ability to continue taking public safety into account when determining bail for violent offenders," she added.


The decision, Dubose v. McGuffy, led to other low bail amounts being set for individuals accused of murder and other violent crimes, including a man accused of shooting four people, killing one at an apartment complex in Youngstown. His bail was initially set at $800,000, but was later reduced to just $150,000.

One man accused of plowing his truck into a family selling produce on the side of the road, killing a child and severely injuring another, while drunk driving had his bail set at just $25,000, and, according to an investigation by Cleveland Fox affiliate WJW, one man facing gun charges was released on bond, took off his court-ordered ankle monitoring bracelet, and then allegedly killed someone.

Democratic state Sen. Cecil Thomas, however, argued the initiative was "dangerous" because it would lead courts to "gamble on public safety rather than use existing laws to deny bail completely."

"Bail is only the illusion of safety — it gives violent offenders who should be locked behind bars the chance to buy their way out of jail," he said in a document laying out his opposition to the initiative. "Bail keeps non-violent offenders without money behind bars, while violent offenders and gang members with access to illegal cash can buy their way out."

He went on to argue the initiative would hurt victims of crime because it would provide a path for the accused perpetrators to get out of jail, thus leading them to live in a state of fear of reprisal.

"Don’t put a price on our safety. Keep violent offenders behind bars — no matter how much money they have," he added.


The Buckeye Institute, an "independent research and educational institution," took a neutral approach to the initiative after initially opposing it due to its original language.

Speaking with Fox News Digital, Greg Lawson, a research fellow with the institute, explained that the initial language would have "made it impossible to do further bail reform," but that the institute was "happy" with the state legislature's new wording.

He expressed similar concern as Thomas that the original language would have made it possible for those who had the ability to post a higher bond to still pose a threat to public safety.

He added that whichever way Ohio voters choose to go, the institution would still be able to advocate for further bail reforms in the future.

The initiative will appear on the November midterm elections general election ballot on Tuesday, November 8.

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