LISBON - State Rep. Nick Barborak has introduced a bill he says would allow judges to again have complete authority when it comes to sentencing first-time offenders convicted of low-level, non-violent crimes.
"It just restores discretion to judges who are in a better position to make these decisions than politicians and bureaucrats," said the Lisbon Democrat.
House Bill 251 is supposed to correct a previous bill passed by the legislature in 2011, which was amended last year but that Barborak believes still fails to go far enough in restoring complete sentencing discretion to judges.
The 2011 sentencing reform law, among other things, required judges to impose probation in the case of some first-time offenders convicted of non-violent fourth- and fifth-degree offenses. Barborak said the laudable goal was to get drug offenders into rehabilitation and also decrease prison rolls, but it went too far by including drug dealers.
Under the law, drug dealers caught for the first time selling up to $1,000 in heroin must automatically be sentenced to probation if the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections determines there is a treatment program available for them, and this is what troubles Barborak.
"You can sell up to five grams of heroin in Columbiana County, or anywhere in Ohio for that matter, and be convicted and what you're going to get under Ohio law is probation if you're a first-time offender ... and I think that is wrong," he said.
Barborak, a former assistant county prosecutor, said many times these drug dealers have been selling drugs for years and this just happens to be the first time they were caught. In most instances, undercover agents have made several purchases from the dealer before charges are filed.
The state legislature attempted to correct the problem by passing a bill last year that restored sentencing discretion in seven instances, but Barborak said House Bill 251 goes even further.
"This lets the judge make the decision on a case-by-case basis. The judges hands will no longer be tied when sentencing these offenders," he said.
The sentencing overhaul law was touted as a way to also reduce the prison population by diverting these offenders to treatment programs, and Barborak said judges still have that discretion under his bill.
"I understand someone with an addiction needs treated ... I don't have a problem with that. But I think heroin dealers should not be walking the streets of Columbiana County and other communities," he said.
A bipartisan group of four other legislatures are cosponsoring the bill, including Reps. Connie Pillich, D-Cincinnati, and Margie Conditts, R-Liberty Township.