State leaders laud state-level Marsy’s Law, request further funding
Since 2017, a law to spotlight victim’s rights has been in effect in Ohio, but a new law that helps guide courts, attorneys and victim’s advocates on the rights took effect just this month.
Marsy’s Law was approved by 83% of voters in 2017, and with the implementation of House Bill 343 on April 6, the mechanisms are in place to lead victims through a criminal case and whatever else might come from surviving a crime.
“This law gives them a guidebook, processes, tools, so that it’s standard,” said state Rep. Andrea White, R-Kettering, sponsor of HB 343. “No matter if you live in Coshocton, or Cleveland or Cuyahoga County, you’re going to have the same rights under the law.”
Among the more than 50 changes made to the Ohio Revised Code as a part of the new law are spelled-out rights to privacy, including redaction of victim names and identifying information from public records, along with the right to be heard and to be present in public proceedings when they may need to exert their rights.
In situations like probation hearings and other court proceedings, victims or victim’s advocates will be able to talk about the implications of a convicted person’s release, for example, or the type of restitution the victim might receive.
Special accommodations for children and people with developmental disabilities were also included in the law changes.
Marsy’s Law, as a constitutional amendment, makes sure that victim’s rights “shall be upheld in a manner no less vigorous than the rights of the accused.”
The rights for victims have come a long way, especially since the 1990s, when Cathy Harper Lee, executive director of the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center, said victims simply did not have the rights they have today.
Before Marsy’s Law, victim’s rights laws were “elusory, paper promises with no means of enforcement and as a result, routinely ignored,” Lee said.
The OCVJC now has a toolkit website that shows victims the rights they have, and gives advice on how to move forward in whatever situation they may find themselves.
Both Lee and OCVJC board chair Sophia Fifner know, as victims themselves, that the changes made in Ohio law will help people avoid the barriers they faced within the justice system.
“Being raped did not compare to the pain of navigating a justice system that was not built for me,” Fifner said.
Fifner called Marsy’s Law “equity realized, because it eliminates barriers to information that helps individuals … have access to fundamental rights on the broadest level.”
Union County Prosecutor David Phillips said the “transformative” legislation will help prosecutors keep victims private and also lead advocates as they help those victims through the judicial process.
What is not a part of the legislation is further funding to fill a gap in federal Victims of Crime Act monies, which Phillips said has dropped 60% since 2019 in Ohio.
While Phillips was able to keep his office’s pile of funding with intervention from his local government, other parts of Ohio haven’t been so lucky, necessitating state investment.
“We want to see (the law) work, and we need the resources to do that,” Phillips said.
At the end of the last General Assembly, White said the legislature appropriated $900,000 to close the VOCA funding shortage, but the Ohio Prosecuting Attorney’s Association and other groups have since lobbied with White to get more money, specifically $8 million needed to add victim’s advocates and help move Marsy’s Law forward.
“We can’t expect our justice system to have the ability to do all the right things if we don’t have staff,” White said.
She’s hoping the funding will be folded into the budget bill, under Ohio House consideration at the moment.
This story was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.