Last fall, Ohio voters overwhelmingly approved Issue 1, a constitutional amendment designed to enshrine victims’ rights in criminal cases. Dubbed “Marsy’s Law” in honor of a California woman murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 1983, the new law presents some complicated questions for public employees in the criminal justice system.
Marsy’s Law adds new victim rights, while also emphasizing many rights already codified by Ohio statutes and evidence rules. Namely, the amendment gives victims the rights to: (1) timely notification of all court proceedings, (2) be present and heard in all court proceedings, (3) reasonable protection from the accused, (4) refuse an interview or discovery requests made by the accused in most cases, (5) notice when the accused is released or escapes, (6) full and timely restitution, (7) consultation with the prosecutor assigned to the case, and (8) a reasonably prompt conclusion to the case.
For law enforcement, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges, this measure may present more questions than answers as it moves toward implementation. Several groups have requested clarification about who is considered a “victim”. Marsy’s Law provides a broad definition, leaving some ambiguity as to whether victims of non-violent offenses (such as theft) or corporations and insurance companies would qualify as victims (for instance, a corporate retail store owner and its insurance company whose store is heavily damaged in an armed robbery).
It is also unclear how far the requirements to notify victims must extend. Most courts address bond conditions for an accused immediately after the arrest. This could impose burdens on courts, as employees hurry to arrange victim notice by an initial hearing, often scheduled for the next day. Others question how victims’ attorneys, now required under Marsy’s Law upon a victim’s request, will fit into the trial process, and who will fund them. Additionally, defense attorneys have raised concerns that the ability of victims to refuse discovery requests by the accused may interfere with the right to confront witnesses under the Sixth Amendment.
Voters have spoken, yet these questions of enforcement remain unanswered for public employees directly involved with Marsy’s Law. While this measure provides no civil cause of action against public employees (and in most cases, they would be immune), victims have the right to appeal criminal proceedings if they believe a violation has occurred.
The General Assembly is currently working on implementing legislation to clarify and refine the various applications of Marsy’s Law. For more information, visit https://www.lsc.ohio.gov/.