A Call for Equal Rights for Crime Victims
A group representing crime victims in Ohio says more needs to be done to ensure families who suffer from crime are treated fairly. This group wants Ohio voters to amend the constitution to ensure equal rights for crime victims. Five other states have passed such issues.
Advocates for crime victims have taken the first step in putting a proposed constitutional amendment on Ohio’s ballot this fall. Cathy Harper Lee, the executive director of the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center says it is needed because it would ensure victims get rights that are equal to offenders.
“There’s a very inconsistent application of victim’s rights and laws throughout the state. Some jurisdictions do a fabulous job. Others do not.”
Victims suffer twice
She says sometimes victims suffer a second time because of the way the justice system works.
“There was one particular case. The case was a rape case. It had drug on for 3 1/2 years from the time it was indicted. We represented the victim. We went in to file a motion on the victim’s behalf to object to this substantial delay in prosecution, and the judge ignored the motion and actually went on to further penalize the victim. Rather than setting it for trial, the judge continued it for eight months. We filed a second motion, making a stronger case that the victim has the right to protect her rights. The judge penalized the victim again and set the hearing out another 10 months.”
Crime Victims Services Executive Director David Voth says that case isn’t unique.
“There are violations of victim’s rights in probably every county, every day, in some way or fashion. Either someone is not being notified or they are not being allowed in the court room or they are not being allowed to wear a memorial button when they are supposed to be allowed to and not ordered restitution. There’s just constant violations.”
The crime victim advocates say this proposed constitutional amendment is meant to change that. It’s called Marsy’s Law, named after a California woman who was killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. A week after her murder, her mother and brother walked into a grocery store and saw the accused murderer who had been released on bail.
"This proposal, being pushed now by her brother, would give crime victims the right to be treated with respect, fairness and dignity and the right to information about services and rights available to crime victims. It would also give victims the right to notification in a timely manner of major proceedings and developments in the case or changes to an offender’s status.
"Additionally, it would give victims the right to be present at court proceedings and provide input to a prosecutor before a plea deal is struck. And it would also give them the right to be heard at pleas or sentence proceedings or any process that might grant an offender’s release. Finally, it would provide them with the right to restitution. The co-founder of Ohio Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Andrea Rehkemp, says it would not ensure these rights for crime victims at the expense of the offender.
“Everything that we are doing does not diminish any of the offender’s rights. This is just going to give the right to the victim which is a fundamental justice principle.
Striking a balance
The advocates say Marsy’s law would not impact the rights of the accused and would not make the victim a party to a case. The prosecutor would remain in control and handle all decision making in the prosecution of the crime. And backers of the amendment say it would not cause unnecessary delays in the criminal process.
Mike Brickner with the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio says his group will be watching to make sure it doesn’t.
“There are aspects of this that may interfere with the defense counsel being able to properly depose or get information from victims of crime and of course we want to be sensitive to the impact that may have on victims but we also have to make sure the person who is being put on trial is able to mount a vigorous defense.”
Once the Ohio Attorney General determines at least one thousand valid petition signatures have been submitted, the group circulating them must collect more than 305,000 additional signatures. And if that happens by July 5th, voters could see this proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot this fall.