Backers of a proposed constitutional amendment to provide additional legal protections to crime victims and their families on Thursday submitted nearly twice the required number of signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot. A total of 563,556 signatures were submitted to the secretary of state's office in an effort to place "Marsy's Law for Ohio" on the ballot this fall. The proposed constitutional amendment needs 305,591 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.
The measure is backed financially by Henry T. Nicholas, who has amassed a fortune of more than $1 billion as the CEO of Broadcom Corporation. The proposed constitutional amendment is named after his sister, Marsy Nicholas, who was stalked and killed in 1983 by an ex-boyfriend. Following a visit to her grave, her mother and Mr. Nicholas saw her accused murderer at a grocery store after he had been released on bail without their knowledge.
Patterned after similar ballot issues passed in other states, the proposal would give crime victims and their families the right to get notification of all legal proceedings and be heard at every step of the process. Victims would also have the right to give input on plea deals and receive restitution for the financial impacts of a crime.
"It is not too much that we ask that Ohio's victims be treated with basic rights like dignity and respect," Mr. Nicholas said during a press conference outside the secretary of state's office.
Mr. Nicholas said similar laws have been approved in California, Illinois, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota. One in five Americans is now covered by the crime victims' bill of rights, he added.
One of the earliest and most prominent backers of the proposal was Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien. "The existence of a right is meaningless unless you have the ability to enforce it," he said.
Ohio voters overwhelmingly approved a victim rights constitutional amendment 23 years ago, but Mr. O'Brien said it is enforced unevenly across the state's 88 counties.
One of those who said she felt the unevenness of how the constitutional amendment is applied is Maria Bonvechio, whose 11-year-old son was abducted, beaten and abandoned by a man with a history of violent crimes. Ms. Bonvechio said she and her son had to fight for the right to be present at the legal proceedings of his alleged attacker. "From our personal experience, we found that dignity and respect for crime victims was absent from court proceedings. Victims' rights should be upheld, enforced, respected and heard. Families must be allowed to be present in court proceedings," she said, later adding, "All too often victims feel victimized twice - once by the crime and once by the justice system."
Another victim who felt as though she was not properly served by the criminal justice system is Danielle Morlan, who, despite filing numerous police reports, was stalked and harassed after she left an abusive relationship because the judge had a policy of not hearing family violence cases while a divorce was pending. "I wish I could say my story of being victimized a second time by the legal system is unique, but I know that's not the case," she said.
The proposed constitutional amendment has garnered the support of 48 local elected officials, 30 social service organizations, 23 state lawmakers, 13 county sheriffs, nine county prosecutors and seven police chiefs.
Source: Gongwer News Service, Inc.