COLUMBUS -- Issue 1, also known as Marsy's Law, seems like a slam dunk.
After all, who would vote against a crime victims' bill of rights?
"Supporting victims of crime is something that we all can agree on because it is about doing the right thing for our fellow citizens who have been victims of crime,” said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who is co-chairing the campaign for Issue 1.
The initiative, which is backed by crime victims' groups has passed easily in four other states, but opponents – both prosecutors and defense attorneys – say Ohio's laws already protect victims. They worry that changing the state constitution through Issue 1 could violate the rights of people accused of crimes.
The constitutional amendment is called Marsy's Law for Marsy Nicholas, a 21-year-old California woman killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. Shortly after her murder, her ex-boyfriend ran into Marsy's mother in the grocery store while he was out on bail.
The run-in prompted Marsy's brother, the billionaire co-founder of the Broadcom Corporation Henry Nicholas, to craft a ballot initiative to protect victims' families from similar unwelcome surprises.
The amendment passed in California in 2008. Since then, similar initiatives have passed in Illinois, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana. Advocates are now targeting nine states, including Ohio in 2017 and Kentucky as soon as 2018.
What would Issue 1 do?
Issue 1 would change Ohio's constitution to include several rights for victims and their families. If these rights are violated, individuals could protest by filing a motion in court. The list of 10 items includes the rights to:
- timely notification of all court proceedings.
- be present and heard at all court proceedings.
- a prompt conclusion of the case.
- refuse an interview or other requests made by the accused in most cases.
- notice when the accused is released or escapes.
- money from the convicted for harm caused, such as compensation for stolen items.
- information about the services available to crime victims.
How is Issue 1 different from Ohio's laws right now?
Ohio voters added protections for crime victims into the state constitution in 1994. The ballot measure was approved with nearly 78 percent of the vote. It enumerated victims' rights from providing reasonable notice to respecting their role in the criminal proceedings.
State legislators passed additional laws to protect victims, such as the right to be notified when the accused is arrested or released from incarceration or the right to contact information for the prosecutor and investigator overseeing the case. Other laws protect their right to attend court proceedings and be informed of a substantial delay.
Sound familiar? Many of the rights that Issue 1 proponents want to add to the Ohio Constitution are already in there or state law.
The problem, proponents of the initiative say, is prosecutors and police don't always follow the rules. And when victims' rights are ignored, they have little recourse. These changes would allow individuals to file a motion in court or appeal the judge's decision.
Why do some oppose Issue 1?
Prosecutors and defense attorneys rarely agree, but both state associations oppose Issue 1. What unites them are concerns about how the constitutional amendment could muck up court proceedings and potentially violate the rights of the accused.
Among their concerns:
- Victims could withhold evidence.
- Victims could recant and leave prosecutors scrambling – not wanting to violate victims' rights but still wanting to pursue the case.
- Victims could disagree with plea deals negotiated by the prosecutor and defense attorney.
- Victims could repeatedly interrupt court proceedings and violate the accused's right to a speedy trial.
Who would pay for the attorney who represents victims?
"There are good intentions here, but it’s going to make the system a lot worse," said Jon Saia, president of the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
The changes aren't needed, opponents argue. The horrifying situation that Marsy's mother found herself in at the grocery store wouldn't happen easily in Ohio, because judges place restraining orders on those accused of crimes. Those who come too close risk incarceration for violating a court order.
The system is far from perfect: Prosecutors forget to notify victims of hearings, suspects violate protection orders and courts fail to inform victims of all their rights. So Ohio should enforce laws already on the books better, Ohio Public Defender Tim Young said.
Opponents also point to problems in other states: Montana's top court delayed implementation of Marsy's Law after a legal challenge, the Missoulian reported. Enacting South Dakota's version has been rocky.
Still, prominent prosecutors like Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, Hamilton County's Joe Deters and Franklin County's Ron O'Brien support the measure.
When do I vote on Issue 1?
Absentee and early voting start Oct. 11. Election Day is Nov. 7.