A Closer Look at Marsy's Law in Ohio
David Voth has been the Executive Director of Crime Victim Services (CVS) since 1985 in West Central Ohio. CVS has 40 staff serving in programs of Court Appointed Special Advocates, Child Advocacy Center, Relationship and Sexual Violence, Human Trafficking, Court Advocacy, Elder Victim Ministry, Guardianship, Special Victims Unit for underserved victims, and Violence Prevention in schools and college campuses. CVS has counselors and an attorney on staff. David authored the book, “Quality Victim Advocacy: A Field Guide” and received the United States Congress Victim Rights Caucus Outstanding Victim Advocate Award. He helped pass the Ohio Marsy’s Rights Constitutional Amendment in 2017 by an 83% margin. We recently interviewed him about how Marsy's Law helps victims and survivors of sexual assault and the need for victims rights.
As someone who works with survivors, how do you believe Marsy’s Law will help current victims and survivors of sexual assault?
Sexual assault survivors in particular need assurance that their legal rights and the justice system culture have changed so that their privacy and safety are protected to the fullest extent possible. With Marsy’s Rights, caring investigators, prosecutors, judges, and probation officers now have constitutional grounds to create and provide victim-centered policies, procedures, and considerations, and those justice officials who don’t care will at least have to follow Marsy’s Rights laws. A victim-driven and victim-centered justice system is more likely to be trauma-informed for victims while also holding law-breakers accountable.
In discussing the criminal justice system with victims and survivors of sexual assault, what have you found to be common themes/frustrations for those navigating the system?
Victims are often frustrated early by not being told their rights and not understanding how their case will proceed, including why their victimization may not get investigated or prosecuted. Marsy’s Rights are the single most important key to improving the justice system case flow and protections to make it customer friendly for victims. However, the next critical wave of victim rights and services must be early in the process at the reporting and investigating stage. Law Enforcement based victim services are needed to parallel application of Marsy’s Rights in the prosecution process. The largest and growing category of victims who need victim services and rights are elder victims of abuse and exploitation.
Which component of Marsy’s Law stands out most to you and why?
The rights to be informed, present, and heard plus protections for safety, dignity, and privacy are the core provisions, but the right to full and timely restitution is the one right most victims benefit from. Almost every victim has a financial loss, whether a property or violent crime, including the many victims who won’t use their participation rights by attending hearings. With Marsy’s Rights, victims are much more likely to get some money back through new court orders, taking posted bond money for restitution, improving the collection by Clerks of Courts and Probation, garnishing employment checks and tax refunds, and prioritizing restitution payments over court costs and fines. Restoration of victims financially, regardless of their satisfaction with the conviction or sentence, will cause more victims to feel some justice was done. Granted, some offenders will never pay restitution, but the criminal order is enforceable civilly if there are ever funds available.
Why are constitutional rights necessary as opposed to current statutes dedicated to crime victims’ rights?
I first tried public agreements in 1990 with justice officials for victims to be informed, present, and heard. That improved participation for many victims but also regularly failed victims – it was still a consideration, not a right. Then I co-chaired Ohio’s 1994 “generic” constitutional rights to participation and to be treated with fairness and dignity, which helped but did not provide the specificity of rights needed to enforce them or appeal violations. Then we implemented the detailed 1996 Victim Rights Law, Ohio Revised Code 2930, which made a significant difference in changing victim participation rights. However, there is absolutely no substitute for our Marsy’s Rights Constitutional Rights passed in 2017 because only now do victims have the culture changing, strong and clear implementation and appeal language, and broadest scope of specific and constitutional rights from the time of arrest through parole hearings. Only now do we have both, “Miranda Rights for suspects and Marsy Rights for victims.”