In her recent State of the Judiciary Address, Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor promoted a statewide sentencing database as a means for securing equal access to justice for all Ohioans. Chief Justice O’Connor argued that, to ensure confidence in the judicial system, the public “must be able to see justice for all, and understand how it is measured.” The proposed database would provide “metrics on sentencing and the outcomes of court proceedings” and would result in transparency for the public and accountability for sentencing judges.
Nearly a quarter-century ago, then Chief Justice Thomas Moyer set up a Commission on Racial Fairness charged with designing and implementing a comprehensive statewide sentencing database. But, to date, Ohio has not implemented one. “The main excuse,” the current Chief Justice related, is that “it’s difficult to do.”
What follows is an attempt to anticipate a response from Ohio judges to Chief Justice O’Connor’s call for a statewide sentencing database. The hope is that this anticipated judicial response will provide a more realistic picture of the systemic barriers to creating and implementing the Chief Justice’s proposal.
Judges are concerned that a statewide database will undercut the very values that uphold their authority as sentencing judges. When sentencing, judges want to maintain discretion, value proportionality, and honor local norms. After sentencing, judges don’t want to be pigeonholed or scapegoated. Any serious attempt to institute a statewide sentencing database must take into account these legitimate concerns. Ignoring them invites another quarter-century of justice delayed.