Ohio voters have been inundated with mailings and commercials for State Issue 2, which deals with pharmaceutical prices. However, there is a second state ballot issue this year, one which centers around clarifying and enshrining the rights of crime victims in Ohio’s Constitution.
State Issue 1, also known as Marsy’s Law, seeks to amend Article I, Section 10 of the Ohio Constitution to outline a Crime Victim Bill of Rights. The amendment would give crime victims the following rights:
•To fair and respectful treatment for the victim’s safety, dignity and privacy.
•Upon request, to notice of, and the right to be present at, all public proceedings involving the criminal or delinquent conduct against the victim.
•To be heard in any public proceeding involving release, plea, sentencing, disposition, or parole, or in which the victim’s rights are implicated.
•To reasonable protection from the accused or person acting on behalf of the accused.
•Upon request, to reasonable notice of any release or escape of the accused.
•To refuse discovery requests made by the accused, except as authorized by Article I, Section 10 of the Ohio Constitution.
•To full and timely restitution from the criminal or juvenile offender.
•To proceedings without unreasonable delay and a prompt conclusion of the case.
•Upon request, to confer with the government’s attorney.
•To written notice of all rights in the amendment.
The measure would also require these rights to be protected with the same vigor as those of the accused, as well as allowing the victim or that victim’s representative to petition the court of appeals. This same measure has also been passed in California, Illinois, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, with efforts to enact this legislation underway in Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Maine, Nevada, North Carolina and Oklahoma.
For Rebecca King-Newman, attorney and director of Court Advocates for Allen County Crime Victim Services, the ballot issue would cement the rights of victims in court, protecting against the potential whims of future legislative bodies as well as from interpretive latitude on the bench.
“Sometimes the legislative body will work to overhaul and change criminal law, and that includes the victim rights statute, so if it’s in the Constitution, it’s not something that could be easily changed,” she said. “Also, the law is interpreted differently depending on the court in the county you’re in, and we’re hoping this gives a little more uniform application to the law.”
For King-Newman, this is not necessarily an issue in Allen County, where the court system has done an admirable job ensuring that victims’ rights are protected, she said. However, that may not be the case in every county in the state, hence the statewide scope of this initiative.
This issue is not without its detractors however, with prosecutors and defense attorneys voicing concerns over the effect this issue could have on due process.
“Issue 1 amends Ohio’s Constitution to give victims the right to refuse to turn over potential evidence and to petition the court of appeals,” according to Ohio Public Defender Tim Young in his official argument against the issue as filed with the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office. “Issue 1 conflicts with essential guarantees in the Bill of Rights, including double jeopardy, confrontation and speedy trial — rights fundamental to our Founders.”
Calls made to members of the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers seeking comment were not returned.
King-Newman responded saying this is not a veto for victims and that this measure would not give victims power over the outcome of a trial.
“Defendants have several rights within the Constitution, like the right to a speedy trial, to bail, to counsel, to confront witnesses, to not incriminate themselves, and to be free of cruel and unusual punishment,” she said. “This is just one law for the victims. We’re not looking to compete with the rights of a defendant.”
Allen County Prosecutor Juergen Waldick said he plans to support the ballot initiative, given the high priority he places on the rights of victims. However, he said he would also do so with reservations.
“I support the notions that are contained in it, but as a general rule, I don’t like constitutional amendments,” he said. “It’s terribly difficult to change the Constitution if there are unintended consequences.”