Editor’s note: This is the first in a week-long series of stories about area issues and candidates appearing on the November ballot.
Residents have a chance to decide whether to approve or reject Issue 1, or Marsy’s Law, on Union County’s general election ballot this year.
Marsy’s Law is a proposed amendment to the Ohio Constitution that would expand the rights of crime victims.
Two rights that would be granted by the amendment are being challenged statewide, which include the right for a victim to deny interviews or discovery requests from the accused, except as authorized by Article I, Section 10 of the Ohio constitution, and the right to a speedy and conclusive trial.
Union County Prosecutor Dave Phillips said the rights proposed in the amendment are already granted within the language of Ohio’s constitution.
“All of the things Marsy’s law purports to do, Ohio law, for the most part… it’s already covered in existing law,“ he said. “As a result of that constitutional provision, the legislature has enacted an entire chapter for victim’s rights.”
Phillips said the language of the amendment would classify a victim as a party in a case, where generally, in those cases, it’s the state versus the accused. He said this involvement of the victim would slow down court trials because they would have to be notified of each step and could file appeals in between.
“Appeals generally take a few months to decide,” he said. “The proponents say we should protect victim’s rights, which I agree with that. But, I don’t think we want to do it where we throw our criminal justice system into chaos.”
He also said victims already have the right to refuse interviews or discovery requests by the accused, as they don’t have to speak to the defense counsel. He said this protection in the amendment could conflict with federal laws, as victims already have to disclose if they spoke to the police.
“What it could do is conflict with United States constitutional rights,” he said.
He said this amendment should have gone in as a statute rather than an amendment, as “the legislature can change it much easier” compared to the constitution.
“No one is against victim’s rights,” Phillips said. “They’re very important and our office protects them all the time under statutory and under current constitutional law.”
Though there are objections, Catherine Harper Lee, founder and executive director of the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center, said the objections don’t add up to the language of her petition for the amendment.
“What we’ve seen from those states (with Marsy’s Law) that it does not cause delay in the system,” she said. “What we’ve seen in these states, rather than ignoring rights, the system does a better job at protecting rights and allowing victims to enforce their rights so there’s no need to file a motion.”
She said her involvement in getting this amendment onto the ballot started with her advocacy work with crime victims since 1994. With her work, she founded the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center, which helps represent crime victims in expediting their court cases and provide protections.
She has been advocating for Marsy’s Law to be introduced in Ohio and has been observing how other states have incorporated it into their constitutions.
“Anyone who has the right should have the ability to use that right,” said Catherine Harper Lee, founder and executive director of the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center. “Whether or not victim’s rights are protected shouldn’t be dependent upon where they live.”
Lee said the amendment wouldn’t create the possibility of delay in the court system. She said if it did cause a delay, that means a victim is wanting their motion to be heard and their rights to be enforced.
She said there is no one in a trial who would want it to run faster than the victim. She said, because of this, criminal cases “would be heard more expediently.”
“Victims have rights and those rights shouldn’t be ignored,” she said. “Otherwise, we should just eliminate victim’s rights from the constitution altogether.”
Lee also said the right of a victim to refuse a discovery from the accused wouldn’t be a problem as well because the amendment already cites when the victim could not refuse a discovery.
She said the proposed right to refuse a discovery would be there to protect victims who are having the accused perform unreasonable discovery requests on them.
“It does not prevent victims from turning over evidence,” she said. “This ensures that the proper procedures are followed so their rights aren’t violated.”
Lee submitted her petition for Marsy’s Law in Ohio earlier this year and it was received by the Ohio Attorney General on Jan. 24. The petition gathered more than 2,500 signatures.
It is referenced as the Crime Victim’s Bill of Rights and originated in California in 2008.
Currently, there are efforts to pass Kentucky, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Idaho, Oklahoma and Maine, according to the law’s website.
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