On state Issue 1, the 2017 Crime Victim Rights Initiative, The Athens NEWS recommends voting no. While this well-meaning amendment would grant crime victims more involvement and protections when it comes to prosecuting their alleged offender, it does so at the cost of due process and justice.
Ohio law already provides crime victims with important constitutional rights. One of those established rights in Ohio – requiring prosecutors to notify victims when a defendant is arrested or eligible for pretrial release – provided the basis for California’s “Marsy’s Law,” which Issue 2 is patterned after.
Ohio already has the nation’s first automated victim notification systems. It offers victims information 24/7.
Briefly, this Crime Victim Rights Initiative (as explained on the Ballotpedia website) include the right to be treated with fairness and respect for the victim’s safety, dignity and privacy; to be notified about and present at proceedings; to be heard at any proceeding involving release, plea, sentencing, disposition, or parole of the accused; to a prompt conclusion of a case; to reasonable protection from the accused; to be notified about the release or escape of the accused; to refuse an interview or deposition at the request of the accused; and to receive restitution from the individual who committed the criminal offense (wording taken from Ballotpedia).
As stated, much of this (but not all) is already included in the state constitution. Some of the additional or refined provisions, however, are problematic.
Particularly troubling is the provision that would allow crime victims to refuse to turn over evidence or participate in interviews or depositions in the case at hand. As Gary Daniels, chief lobbyist for the Ohio ACLU, states in opposing Issue 1, “Our legal system has a responsibility to uphold the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty,’ and if passed this law will fundamentally change the nature of criminal proceedings. The ACLU fully supports the enforcement of existing legal protections for victims, but this law would negatively impact the accused’s constitutional right to due process. Cooperation by both parties is essential to a fair trial, but this proposed amendment will threaten due process for those still presumed innocent.”
The result, the ACLU of Ohio argues, will be a deepening of existing systemic failings in an already overburdened Ohio criminal justice system. While protecting and aiding victims of crimes is a worthy goal, the ACLU continues, “we cannot achieve that by simultaneously depriving the accused of their constitutional rights.”
In arguing against Issue 1, state Public Defender Tim Young (on the Ballotpedia page for Issue 1) points out that Ohio law already requires prosecutors to protect victims’ rights. In cases where victims’ rights are not being protected, he points out, it’s not because of failings in the law, but rather a lack of resources for enforcement and support. “Issue 1 does not provide additional resources, and the government remains immune to liability,” Young states. “The problem in Ohio is not the absence of victims’ rights, but the lack of remedy when the government fails to carry out duties owed to victims.” Issue 1 would not change that.
On Ballotpedia, John Murphy, executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, said his group is mainly concerned about an Issue 1 provision that allows victims to intervene in the criminal-justice process at any point in a case. “It could be a real mess,” he predicted.
Barry Wilford, public policy director of the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (also on Ballotpedia), warned about how Issue 1 could constrain judges’ ability to weight the rights of victims versus defendants. "This is overkill. It's a good cause, but putting it in the Constitution would be a drastic mistake."
We agree. Vote no on state Issue 1.