Reshaping Ohio's Justice System Through Marsy's Law
Liz Poprocki is the Executive Director of Ohio Victim Witness Association, a Registered Advocate with Advanced Standing through the Ohio Advocate Network, a Comprehensive Credentialed Advocate through the National Advocate Credentialing Program, a member of the Ohio Crisis Response Team and is NOVA certified in crisis response. She has been active in the advocacy field for over 15 years with opportunities ranging from crime victim advocate, court liaison for rape survivors, community educator, outpatient and inpatient therapist, and advocate with Disability Rights Ohio.
As someone who works with survivors, how do you believe Marsy’s Law is helping current victims and survivors of crime in Ohio?
Through the implementation of Marsy’s Law, survivors should expect to be thoroughly involved in the criminal justice process and not an outsider to the processes that are directly affecting their lives. I think it’s important that we look at Marsy’s Law as something bigger than victim rights. Ohioans are experiencing their worst days when they become a victim of crime. Their dignity, security, health, and in some cases, their lives, are being taken from them and their loved ones. Marsy’s Law not only provides victims with enforceable rights but also sets the stage for recovery and resiliency. Marsy’s Law allows for the victim to be an active part of the criminal justice process. If victims feel empowered throughout the criminal justice process, then they have a higher chance of recovering from what happened to them and Marsy’s Law rights can provide that empowerment. I believe we should be starting to view Marsy’s Law as not only a foundational component to our criminal justice systems but also as a step towards more trauma-informed communities.
In discussing the criminal justice system with victims, what have you found to be common themes/frustrations for those navigating the system?
Oh, there are many! A few that come to mind are a lack of advocates and victim representatives in court; not receiving notifications about public hearings or their offender’s status; judges not allowing impact statements to be made in court; prosecutors and their offices not providing information to the victim which leaves them confused; and a lack of accessible communication and information for victims with disabilities.
Which component of Marsy’s Law stands out most to you and why?
I would have to say that there are two components that really stand out to me. The first is the right to a court order of restitution. Prior to Marsy’s Law, this was not a right to victims of crime. Victims had the opportunity to file for Victims of Crime Compensation but this was not a process that involved the offender and was meant for reimbursable items that were paid out of pocket. In some cases across Ohio, courts may have been ordering restitution but there was no Constitutional right for this judgment. After Marsy’s Law, we began seeing more and more courts order restitution for the victim during sentencing. This right to restitution not only serves the victim but allows for the accountability of the offender.
The second component is the right to request an appeal to a victims’ rights violation through the Appellate Court. What good are rights if you have no means to enforce them? Our criminal justice system must adhere to Marsy’s Law throughout the entire process and any deviation from that can lead to an appeal that can be initiated with a qualified victims’ rights attorney. Never before have crime victims had this opportunity to legally say to the courts, “Wait! What you did isn’t right!” and then be able to follow through with enforcement of their rights.
Why are constitutional rights necessary as opposed to current statutes dedicated to crime victims’ rights?
Prior to 2018, when Marsy’s Law took effect, Ohio was operating under a state-specific Crime Victims’ Rights Act. This law, passed in 1996, went through many revisions throughout the years but unfortunately, was still lacking in content and enforcement. Because this Crime Victims’ Rights Act was in Ohio statute only and not a Constitutional amendment, like Marsy’s Law, it lacked proper implementation and enforcement across Ohio. Many courts were not following the law and most certainly not enforcing the law. These courts were cherry-picking what worked and didn’t work for them instead of ensuring the rights for all victims of crime.
We most certainly know that this was not the case for many courts however through the implementation of Marsy’s Law, we began to see exactly which counties were not implementing or enforcing the original Crime Victims’ Rights Act due to the difficulties they had implementing Marsy’s Law. Without consistent and enforceable rights, there would continue to be a system-wide failure across Ohio when it came to victims’ rights.
Being a Constitutional amendment, Marsy’s Law supersedes any previous victim rights’ law in Ohio. Now, we have the ability for more stringent enforcement of these rights and victims now have provisions available to them to enforce their rights with legal action and appellate reviews. Marsy’s Law took great steps to change the inherently unequal system of justice. We owe it to crime victims to give them the tools to recover and seek resiliency from the horrible injustices they have experienced. Marsy’s Law is one step towards that kind of trauma-informed criminal justice system.