A new statewide law approved by voters last year providing more rights to victims of crimes may have an impact on the local court system, Clark County officials said.
The new law, which came into effect on Feb. 5, gives victims or anyone harmed by a crime the right to receive notifications, give input in court proceedings and receive full and timely restitution.
Local leaders say the law broadens the definition of a crime victim, meaning it could extend to other family members, guardians and other people with relationships to the victim, including non-human entities, such as businesses or insurance companies. The Clark County Criminal Justice Council discussed how it will implement the new law at its quarterly meeting earlier this month.
“It’s kind of an easy sell, if you think about it,” said Common Pleas Court Judge Tom Capper, “but as they say in the world of everything, the devil is in the details. That’s the issue here.”
Victims are also allowed to refuse discovery requests made by the defense, be guaranteed privacy and reasonable protection, and have a right to “prompt conclusion of the case.”
The statewide ballot initiative passed overwhelmingly at the polls last November with more than 80 percent of the vote.
Billionaire Henry T. Nicholas III, a native of Cincinnati , is founder of the issue known as Marsy’s Law. The law is named after Nicholas’s sister, Marsalee, who was murdered by an ex-boyfriend in California in 1983.
Nicholas bankrolled the campaign, as he has in other states. Voters in California, Illinois, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota have all adopted Marsy’s Law. After the win, Nicholas said he plans to push for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Capper discussed where a hypothetical situation where a person is accused of breaking into five homes each of which contain four different people. Under the new law, there would be 20 victims, he said. Those victims must be made aware of their rights, but it doesn’t indicate who must tell them about their rights, Capper said.
The initial notification will likely come from law enforcement who will pass out Marsy’s Law cards detailing victims’ rights at the scene of the crime, Capper said. The Clark County Prosecutor’s Office will also pass out cards during its weekly grand jury hearings, Prosecutor Andy Wilson said.
The law also creates a problem for the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office and the Clark County Public Defender’s Office, which are both located on the fourth floor of the Clark County Municipal Courthouse and County Offices building. The Prosecutor’s Victim/Witness division is also located on the fourth floor, meaning victims, witnesses and suspects may see each other while going to speak with representatives, Clark County Prosecutor Andy Wilson said.
“It obviously creates a lot of of issues for us,” he said.
The law also requires victims be notified about hearings and to be heard in any public proceeding, Capper said. It could lead to a scenario where multiple victims of one defendant may all wish to speak at an event like an arraignment, he said. The event could take much longer than the time typically allotted, especially if victims’ have an issue with a defendants’ bond, Capper said.
“They have the right to be heard,” he said. “It will be up to the courts to figure out how to handle that.”
The law could create a scenario where if a victim isn’t heard and is unhappy with a sentencing, it could appeal the decision in appellate court, Capper said. The courts will likely have to develop a system for notifying victims about a case, he said.
The notification will likely come from the Victim Witness division, Wilson said, which works with both the Common Pleas and the Municipal Courts.
“We’re doing about 80 percent of this anyway,” he said.
The changes must also be made without any extra funding, Capper said.
“The general concept is good and since we haven’t done anything in 23 years in this state to protect victims’ rights, maybe we did need an upgrade,” Capper said. “When you do this kind of thing, you have to look at the details and I’m not sure anybody paid as much attention to this in practice as they maybe should have.”
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