- Laura A. Bischoff Columbus bureau
Issue 1, a constitutional amendment to beef up rights for crime victims, cruised to an easy win Tuesday with backing from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and a captivating story by a billionaire whose sister was murdered.
“It is truly a great privilege and an honor to see the voters of Ohio so overwhelmingly crush the opposition in passing this,” said Henry T. Nicholas III, a native of Cincinnati and founder of the issue known as Marsy’s Law. The law is named after Nicholas’s sister, Marsalee, who was murdered by an ex-boyfriend in California in 1983.
Nicholas said he was elated and ecstatic as returns showed Issue 1 winning with more than 80 percent of the vote.
“We have got a just cause and it’s not just enough to amend the constitution. It takes hard work and leadership and commitment from many people, as you all know,” he said while thanking supporters.
DeWine, a Republican who is running for governor, co-chaired the campaign. “Tonight’s historic vote is a huge step forward for all Ohioans, and the result of years of hard work by crime victim advocates,” he said in a statement. “We thank Dr. Henry Nicholas, Marsy’s brother, for finally bringing equal rights for crime victims to our state.”
State Issue 1 will 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.”
Nicholas bankrolled the campaign, as he has in other states. Voters in California, Illinois, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota have all adopted Marsy’s Law. The win in Ohio was the movement’s biggest yet and bolsters plans to push for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Nicholas said.
“The fact that you’re able now to have standing, if there is some injustice, you have the ability to go before the judge and plead your case,” Nicholas said.
The amendment did have some 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 argued that State Issue 1 has the potential to add costs and delays to the criminal justice system.
Their pleas were ignored by voters.
Issue 1 supporter Andrea Rehkamp of Oxford got involved in the crime victims rights movement after her 15-year-old son Ken Watson was killed by a drunken driver in 1981. Rehkamp said “Back in 1981, there were no victim rights in Ohio at all. There was basically no drunk driving bills in Ohio, or very few.”
Rehkamp and others worked to pass a constitutional amendment in 1994 to guarantee rights such as victim notification of court proceedings. But, she said, the old law lacks enforcement.
“I think the enforcement and restitution mechanisms will help a great many victims for years ahead,” she said. “I think it’s going to give victims a sense there is justice for them in the criminal justice system.”
Cathy Harper Lee, a supporter of Marsy’s Law for Ohio, said the day has come where victims have a criminal justice system that is truly fair and balanced.
Nicholas said he sees fighting for victim rights as duty and obligation. “Often times, it’s not fun. It’s very difficult as a family member of a crime victim to deal with it. There are times when I see my sister’s picture on the buttons that we have, it’s hard.”