Eighty-three percent % of Ohio voters approved a new crime victim rights amendment last November, Marsy’s Law, to the Ohio Constitution. It took effect February 5. So, what is different now? Today, your victim’s rights are:
1. Stronger. Victim rights are raised to the constitutional level and must now be “protected in a manner no less vigorous than the rights afforded to the accused.” You’ve heard of “Miranda Rights” for the accused, now we have “Marsy Rights” for victims – and, like the accused, victims must be told their rights.
2. Broader. Two magic words were added, victim safety and privacy — to be considered in all decisions and hearings. This is a culture change. From media naming you, to police body camera footage release, your privacy interests must be considered, and your safety must be factored in release hearings of the accused.
3. Critical. All proceedings must include victim’s core rights to be informed, present and heard. Unlike TV shows, even if you are subpoenaed you can be present at your hearings (with rare exceptions such as violent behavior in the court room). No plea bargain can be accepted without first hearing your concerns.
4. Protected. If your rights are violated, then the court must hear your complaint, including appeals courts, “shall promptly consider and decide the petition.” The United States Supreme Court has ruled that the sentencing of an offender can be re-done, including changing the punishment. So, if your right to be heard is ignored, then hearings can be re-done with you present, and not just for show. The judge can change the decision based on new victim information.
5. Clarified. Some judges (none in Allen or Putnam counties) have refused to allow victims to give both a written Victim Impact Statement ahead of sentencing and give an oral one at sentencing while facing the offender. Now, victims have the choice to be heard, not judges deciding for them.
6. Faster. The accused has the right to a speedy trial, but often is trying to slow down the process and wear down witnesses. Now, victims have the right to “a prompt conclusion of the case.”
7. Ensuring restitution. Whatever your religious faith or cultural heritage, you have been taught that if you steal from someone you should pay them back. We now have that moral value in Ohio law. “Full and timely” restitution must be ordered, even if the offender can’t pay right now. If money is collected, you will be paid first and as soon as possible. Taxpayers do not pay victims back, and some offenders can never pay, but the court restitution order is forever and, from now on, will be collected from offender tax refunds, lottery winnings and other means to make sure you get paid.
Law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, probation officers, court clerks and other officials, including victim advocates at Crime Victim Services, work daily to make sure you know and receive the victim rights you want. Please call 419-222-8666 for free trauma, victim rights, and support services.
David Voth is executive director of Crime Victim Services, a Greater Lima United Way Partner Agency. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the The Lima News editorial board or AIM Media, owner of The Lima News.