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We’re answering your questions about Cleveland’s court system.

The Marshall Project is answering questions from the community about Cuyahoga County’s criminal courts, and sharing what we have gathered from the public docket of felony cases.

This type of transparency alone can’t change the harms experienced by people in the system. We hope it will spark conversation and deeper understanding of how the court operates.

We’ll be adding more information, so check back or sign up for an alert when we answer more questions. Have a question you’d like us to tackle? Ask us. If we can answer it, we will.

We do not include the personal information of people who faced charges. To look up a specific case, use the clerk of the court’s website. Check out our download page to get some of the raw data we used to answer the questions below.

How many cases were filed each year?
Last updated June 2, 2022

Number of cases by year

What is included?

A Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court case can include one or more felony charges, against one or more defendants. Our tally of new felony case filings per year counts each case once per defendant. The number of cases filed in 2020 dropped due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cases from prior to 2016 that are ongoing, reactivated or transferred are not counted.

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What are we counting as a case?
Last updated June 2, 2022

We have 69,056 felony cases in the data filed between 2016 and 2021 in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas.

Cases are filed when the county prosecutor believes a person committed a crime that is a felony in Ohio. The filing follows an arrest or a criminal investigation by law enforcement. In most cases, a grand jury of residents determines whether a case is indicted, which means it will be assigned to a judge. If the grand jury does not issue an indictment, the case is closed and referred to as a “no bill.”

We count filings using the case number that is assigned when prosecutors tell the court they are pursuing criminal charges. Each case number is associated with one or more felony charges against a single defendant.

Cases can be dismissed, diverted to a community program or they can result in a guilty plea or a verdict of guilt or innocence for each charge.

Our data does not always include cases that were sealed or expunged by the court.

How many defendants had cases?
Last updated June 2, 2022

43,447 people had cases filed against them from 2016 to 2021 in the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.

This includes each person who had one or more felony cases filed against them. Each defendant is counted once, even if they were involved in multiple cases.

What are the racial demographics of the defendants?
Last updated June 2, 2022

Number of defendants by race

The Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court lists three categories related to race: Black, White and Asian. It also includes Hispanic, which is an ethnicity. When indictments are filed against “John Does” or “Unknown Males” for felony crimes that are based on DNA or other evidence — like sexual assaults — the race category is sometimes left blank. We designated those, and other cases where no race was listed, as “Unknown.” 

Court officials said information related to a defendant’s race comes from the law enforcement agency that makes the arrest or files the charges.

How many court filings name multiple defendants?
Last updated June 2, 2022

Proportion of cases with single vs. multiple defendants

About 6,704 criminal filings in the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court involved multiple defendants from 2016 through 2021, about 11% of all filings. About 53,385 filings involved a single defendant.

Which law enforcement agencies filed the most cases?
Last updated June 2, 2022

Arrests and investigations by agency, 2016-2021

Cleveland Police arrests and investigations made up the largest share — 46 % — of cases in the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court from 2016 through 2021. The Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s office, which operates the county jail and has jurisdiction countywide, had the next highest number of cases.

Several state agencies make arrests that result in criminal cases. Ohio State Highway Patrol cases primarily stem from traffic stops, including gun and drug charges. State of Ohio cases include “escape” charges for people who are accused of violating conditions of parole supervision, like missing a check-in meeting or having a positive drug screen. 

The size of a city or a police agency doesn’t necessarily match up with the number of criminal cases filed with the court. For instance, the East Cleveland Police Department, which patrols a town of about 14,000 residents and has about 40 sworn officers, contributed more cases than larger departments from cities with more residents — like Lakewood, which has 50,000 residents and 90 officers.

A full list of arresting agencies is available on our data release page.

How often does a defendant ask to withdraw a guilty plea?
Last updated June 2, 2022

Defendants who enter a plea of guilty to a criminal charge in a case have the right to make a request to withdraw that plea. A Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court judge can grant or deny the request. Defendants have made motions, in writing or verbally in the courtroom, and it has been ruled on about 400 times, or in less than 1% of cases, from 2016 through 2021. Judges denied the requests a little more than 60% of the time and granted the withdrawal of the guilty plea a little less than 40% of the time.

What are the sex and gender demographics of defendants?
Last updated June 27, 2022

Number of defendants by sex

Nearly 80% of the defendants with cases filed in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court from 2016 through 2021 had their sex recorded as male

The court tracks the sex of a defendant using three categories: male, female and not specified. The information on the court’s docket is collected by the law enforcement agency that arrested or charged the person. Court officials say they track demographic data using these categories to match the information in state and federal law enforcement identification databases.  

Sex and gender identity are not consistent in this data. In some cases, a person’s sex may be listed in a law enforcement database as male, but they may identify as a trans woman. In other cases, where a person has legally changed the gender listed on their state identification, that information will be reflected in the court’s data. 

Court officials said that regardless of the information on the docket, when a person appears in court, efforts are made to respect their gender identity.

How old are defendants when cases are filed against them?
Last updated June 30, 2022

Age ranges of case defendants

Felony cases filed in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas from 2016 through 2021 were most often against people who were between the ages of 25 and 34 years old at time the court case started. This includes people who had multiple cases filed against them in those years.

Age buckets by race

14-24 years
25-34 years
35-44 years
45-54 years
55-64 years
65+ years

Broken down by race, there were almost 5 times the number of cases filed against Black residents between the ages of 14 and 24 than against White residents of the same age range. Cases where race was listed as other or unknown are excluded from the charts above.

Reported and written by Ilica Mahajan, Rachel Dissell and Anna Flagg

Edited by David Eads

Design by Elan Kiderman Ullendorff and Katie Park

Development by Katie Park