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Understanding Marsy’s Law

Posted On: December 22nd, 2017 by Bradley J. Groene
gavel and document signing

Through a statewide referendum, Ohio has recently expanded the rights of crime victims. The measure, referred to as Marsy’s Law, passed with more than 82 percent of the vote despite pushback from a number of legal groups.

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The Origin of Marsys’s Law

The law’s name references Marsy Nicholas’s sister, who in 1983 was stalked and murdered by her former boyfriend. Only days after her murder, Nicholas and his mother, unaware her killer was out of jail on bail, encountered him at a grocery store.

The encounter motivated Marsy’s brother, Henry Nicholas, to develop and push for a statewide ballot initiative that would protect the families of victims from such undesirable occurrences. As the billionaire cofounder of Broadcom Corporation, he has contributed over $8 million to the Ohio campaign.

Since 2008, voters in several states including Montana, Illinois, California, South Dakota, and North Dakota have passed versions of Marsy’s Law. For 2018, similar ballot measures are planned in Oklahoma and Nevada.

Victims’ Rights Affirmed by Marsy’s Law

There are a number of rights for crime victims and their families that Marsy’s Law adds to Ohio’s constitution. These include the right to:

  • Timely notice of all scheduled court actions and proceedings
  • Attend and hear all court proceedings
  • Not accept an interview or other requests made by the defendant
  • A timely completion of the case
  • Immediate notice when the accused defendant is released or escapes
  • Information about crime victim services
  • Compensation from the individual(s) convicted or for loss caused

If any of these rights are violated, victims and victims’ families have the right to file a motion in court for remedy.

Marsy’s Law and Current Ohio Law

In 1994, Ohio voters added certain protections for crime victims into Ohio’s constitution. The measure passed at that time by approximately 78 percent. It included items such as respecting the victim’s role in criminal proceedings and providing victims with reasonable notice.

The Ohio State legislature also passed laws to protect victims’ rights. In fact, a number of the rights provided for within Marsy’s Law are already present in state law. The difference, claimed by proponents of the measure, is that police and prosecutors don’t consistently follow the rules regarding these laws and the victims’ rights are often ignored.

Opponents’ Arguments

Opponents of the law contend that state law already provides sufficient protection for victims. They are wary of modifying the state constitution and claim it could infringe upon the rights of the accused.

Several legal associations in the state claim that the added protections of Marsy’s Law will slow down the justice system and create an imbalance between the victims’ rights and the defendants’ right to a speedy trial and ability to confront the accuser.

Among the concerns offered by Ohio State associations of prosecutors and defense attorneys include that victims could:

  • Withhold evidence in the case
  • Change their mind about the accusation, leaving prosecutors in a difficult position about whether or not to pursue the case
  • Repeatedly interrupt court proceedings, effectively violating the rights of the accused to a speedy trial
  • Object to a plea deal negotiated between the defense attorney and prosecutor

However, proponents of Marsy’s Law in Ohio affirm that it does not infringe upon the rights of the accused, but it ensures that the rights of victims and the accused are balanced.

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