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Ohioans Approve Victims' Rights Measure By Wide Margin

Cathy Harper Lee (center), executive director of the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center, speaks to supporters of Marsy's Law after the measure was approved by Ohio voters.
Jo Ingles
/
Ohio Public Radio
Cathy Harper Lee (center), executive director of the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center, speaks to supporters of Marsy's Law after the measure was approved by Ohio voters.

Issue 1, the constitutional amendment that gives crime victims legal standing during criminal proceedings, was overwhelming approved by Ohio voters at the ballot box on Tuesday.

The measure known as Marsy's Law was passed was 83 percent to 17 percent by voters on Tuesday.

Dr. Henry Nicholas financed most of the campaign for Marsy’s Law. It’s named for his sister, who was killed by her boyfriend in 1983.

Nicholas flew in from California to be with supporters of Marsy’s Law as the results came in on Election Night. And he seemed surprised at its overwhelming passage.

“Holy crap, we did it. What a win," Nicholas said.

Cathy Harper Lee, executive director of the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center, was also surprised by the huge support for the issue.

“So many of us survivors and advocates have survived on faith and hope," Lee said. "Faith that our experiences and struggles would not be in vain and hope that other crime victims would not have faced the same injustices that we have faced and hope that one day, we would have a criminal justice system that was truly fair and balanced. And that day has come and that day has come big.”

Ohio now becomes the sixth state to adopt Marsy’s Law. California was the first. Orange County California District Attorney Tony Rackauckas says it’s worked well there.

“Everybody has to recognize that they have rights, that the victims of crime have standing, and that the victim’s interests are going to be prominent in court so nobody talks about a case without talking about restitution, nobody talks about a case without talking about how much damage there was to a victim," Rackauckas says. "It just makes a huge difference."

But that difference is what the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio's Gary Daniels worries about. Opponents like Daniels who've spoken out against the issue say most of the rights in this amendment were already in state law, and he's particularly concerned about giving victims legal standing in criminal cases.

Daniels says he’s also worried about the provision making it harder for the accused to get evidence from crime victims through the legal process known as discovery.

Issue 1 allows crime victims to refuse some interviews, depositions, and other discovery requests made by the accused.

“Being able to shut down discovery, that is the person who has been merely accused of a crime to find out information that takes place in the usual give-and-take of these types of cases, and when you have one side completely shut down now, that is going to have some impact on that person’s constitutional rights,” he said.

Daniels said he understands the cause behind this issue is popular and difficult to argue against.

“You know it’s hard to overcome that basic message of victims’ rights but here, where you are going to have a lot of vague language, a lot of broad language, and I think much of the legal profession, the courts, the prosecutors, the defense attorneys are going to be left wondering the exact ramifications of this,” he said.

Daniels said he expects there will be litigation in the future somewhere that will question the new amendment in court if it plays out the way he thinks it might.