Right now, victims of crime are generally well-informed and represented during the trials of those who committed the crimes by advocates such as Crime Victim Services locally.
That might not always be the case, and the rules are enforced unevenly throughout the state. That’s the motivation behind Issue 1, an amendment to the Ohio Constitution to add a “Victim’s Bill of Rights.”
Here are some issues to ponder before casting your vote:
What’s included in the Victim’s Bill of Rights?
The amendment, calling for “Marsy’s Law of Ohio,” assures rights to:
• Be treated with respect for a victim’s safety, dignity and privacy.
• If requested, timely notice on public proceedings.
• Be heard in public proceedings on release, plea, sentences or parole in a public proceeding.
• Reasonable protection for the accused person or anyone working on the accused’s behalf.
• Notice of the release or escape of the accused.
• Right to refuse discovery requests, except under the order of a judge.
• Full and timely restitution from a convicted person.
Doesn’t Ohio already have these protections?
Yes and no. In 1994, a majority of Ohioans approved a constitutional amendment creating rights for victims. Legislation in 1996 actually itemized what these rights were.
The trouble, proponents including Crime Victim Services’ David Voth say, is the language sounds more voluntary than mandatory, so they’re guidelines that aren’t necessarily followed the same in every court across the state.
Also, the current rules don’t include any punishment or appeal process if a victim’s left out. The amendment mandates the victim’s participation (if he or she chooses), and if a victim is left out, an appeal could force the courts to repeat a procedure and include the victim.
Why change the Constitution to do this?
The state legislature could pass new laws to make these same changes, opponents of Issue 1 argue. They say there isn’t a need to change the constitution, and building it into the state’s unchanging rulebook might actually make it harder to adjust over time.
Backers of the change are concerned it’s this ability to change on the fly that should concern victim’s rights advocates the most, so they want victims protected as a basic, unchanging state right.
What exactly is a “victim” under the amendment?
The amendment loosens the definition of a victim compared to what’s on the books now. It includes more victims of misdemeanor crimes such as theft. It also includes people who are “proximately harmed” by an offender.
Opponents worry that the “proximately harmed” is a mighty vague term that could get tied up in court. Those in favor note it’s already been approved in 14 states, with nine more considering it, so there’s already been some court precedent set. Thus, a term such as proximately harmed could give a representative from a homeowners’ association the chance to speak at a sentencing hearing about the fears raised by an offender.
Shouldn’t a defendant get to face his accuser?
The “right to refuse discovery requests” has been questioned by Tim Young, of the Ohio Public Defender’s office, as a way to evade a basic tenet of law, the right to face your accuser. In his official argument, he says it conflicts with “rights fundamental to our Founders.”
Proponents argue some defense attorneys use the discovery process before a trial too liberally, demanding things such as email and social media passwords in search of something to strengthen their cases. Under an approved amendment, the judge would decide if a victim didn’t want to hand over too much information.
Ultimately, it’s up to voters on Nov. 7 to decide if Ohioans need a listed “Victim’s Bill of Rights” or if the current protections are good enough.