When Dani Brewer pressed assault charges in Butler County in 2015, she was shocked to learn the prosecution and defense team agreed that she should undergo a videotaped competency hearing.
Brewer said she felt like she was being re-victimized by the court system. With assistance from Women Helping Women and the Ohio Crime Victims Justice Center, Brewer pushed back.
Now 50, Brewer says her experience in 2015 highlights the need for Marsy’s Law, a proposed constitutional amendment on the statewide ballot to beef up rights for crime victims in cases pending in the adult and juvenile system.
“I feel like it would have given me a voice. It would have given me a reference point to say ‘This is not how it works.’ I mean, I had no footing,” she said.
State Issue 1, a proposed constitutional amendment, would give victims or anyone harmed by a crime the right to receive notifications, give input in court proceedings and receive full and timely restitution. Victims would also be 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.”
Henry T. Nicholas, III, a California billionaire, is bankrolling the campaign and the issue is named after his sister, Marsalee, who was stalked and murdered by her ex-boyfriend in California in 1983. Voters in California, Illinois, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota have adopted Marsy’s Law and the group is pushing ballot initiatives in nine more states this fall, including Ohio.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, a Republican who is running for governor, is co-chairman of the campaign.
Related: DeWine backs crime victim issue on statewide ballotFor a short video from the Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted explaining Issue 1, click here. Husted is also running for governor.The amendment does have opposition. Two groups that often oppose each other — the Ohio Public Defender and the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association — say state law already provides protections for crime victims, and they argue that State Issue 1 has the potential to add costs and delays to the criminal justice system.
Brewer disagrees. “Clearly there is not enough in place. I had nothing. I had to search for Women Helping Women. A mutual friend put me in touch with the Ohio Crime Victims Justice Center. It’s just an additional layer of protection. What’s wrong with that?”
Among others backing the amendment are the Buckeye Sheriff’s Association, the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police, and 13 individual county prosecutors.
Related: Strict rules in Ohio program deny payouts to thousands of victimsSerious flaws?
The Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association issued a two-page statement, outlining what it sees as serious flaws with the proposed amendment.
One is that it says the issue is so broadly defined it’s not clear whether victims would be eligible for the taxpayer-funded counsel now available only to indigent defendants.
“Marsy’s Law places victims on equal footing with defendants,” said Lou Tobin, executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association. “If this is so, one possible unintended consequence is that the victim could have the right to an attorney. The OPAA feels that this is unnecessary, will create delays and disruptions, and could prove expensive to the taxpayer if it is determined that indigent victims have the right to appointed counsel.”
Ohio Public Defender Tim Young said the issue would allow victims to refuse the defense’s request for evidence, documents and testimony in some circumstances.
“Issue 1 conflicts with essential guarantees in the Bill of Rights, including double jeopardy, confrontation and speedy trial — rights fundamental to our founders,” Young said. “This amendment will result in increased litigation, increased costs to taxpayers, and will delay cases, only hurting victims.”
‘It’s not being enforced’
Marsy’s Law Ohio campaign spokesman Aaron Marshall said existing protections for crime victims aren’t uniformly applied across the state. “The reality of it is, it’s not being enforced,” he said.
The proposed constitutional amendment would put victims and defendants on equal footing and give victims the right to a prompt conclusion of the cases, he said.
“Crime victims want cases to wrap up,” said Marshall. “They want to move on with their lives.”
Marshall objected to some of the comments about the amendment’s impact, saying victims who are indigent won’t be entitled to appointed counsel, as stated by the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association. He also denied the amendment would interfere with the right to appeals for people convicted in death penalty cases, which has been suggested by some.
Advocates for Marsy’s Law are mounting a serious campaign, including multiple television commercials that feature crime victims who feel they were mistreated or unheard.
‘The number one thing’
After his sister’s murder, the Cincinnati-born Nicholas became a vocal supporter of victim’s rights, beginning in California, where voters approved Marsy’s Law in 2008.
In Ohio, Nicholas has bankrolled the Marsy’s Law campaign, shelling out $2.9 million of the $3 million raised. Forbes.com this year estimated that Nicholas, the co-founder of Broadcom Corp., has a net worth at $3.4 billion.
Application of the laws hasn’t always been smooth. In California it was disrupted by federal court intervention and a long-standing tug-of-war over prison overcrowding and criminal sentencing reforms.
“It’s a staple in our courts now,” said Todd Riebe, president of the California District Attorneys Association.
Riebe is a supporter.
“The best thing about it is it elevated victim rights to a constitutional level. That was the number one thing that it did,” he said. “There are problems with it. They didn’t look at all the subject matter experts and they should have. When they wrote this thing it could have been a lot better, more clear.”
But, he added, “Overall, I think prosecutors everywhere stand by Marsy’s Law, regardless of their political affiliation, and adhere to it.”