Marsy’s Law already bringing darkness to Ohio
When we start picking and choosing what the public may know about crimes or the work and actions of their local police departments, where does it end?
It is a slippery slope and, frankly, the public’s right to know always should trump privacy issues.
Ohio’s Legislature must act quickly to make changes to a new law intended to protect victims’ rights, but that, undoubtedly, will close doors on transparency of crimes and limit information about what is happening in neighborhoods that the public absolutely has the right to know.
A sweeping piece of victims’ rights legislation known as Marsy’s Law went into effect in April following an affirmative vote at the ballot box in a constitutional amendment. The law was codified in the Ohio Legislature in recent months.
Known as the Ohio Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights, Marsy’s Law states that crime victims “have the right to reasonable notice, to be present and heard at all court proceedings, to be informed of the release of the offender, to offer input on negotiated pleas, to a prompt conclusion of their case, and to restitution for economic losses resulting from the criminal offense or delinquent act.”
It all sounds reasonable, and it is.
The challenges, however, come with the requirement that victims be provided a Victim’s Rights Request Form, asking if he or she wants name, address and identifying information removed from law enforcement records, prosecution records and / or court records when such records are requested by the public or news media.
But Marsy’s law goes far beyond just removal of victim’s names. It also removes age and gender.
All sex crimes are heinous, but it’s hard to deny a big difference exists between the rape of a 25-year-old woman or a 4-year-old child.
Further, this law will mean blocking release of the exact address of a crime if it occurs at the victim’s home and the victim wishes no one to know.
That means residents in the neighborhood will have no knowledge of the location of the crime because the media will have no access to the location in order to report it.
And what if a police officer on duty is the victim of a crime? Doesn’t the public have a right to know about what happened to the officer, who undoubtedly is being financially supported by their tax dollars?
Or worse, what happens when a police officer is involved in a shooting and claims to be the victim?
NBC Channel 4 in Columbus last week reported a new barrier to transparency — one involving police-involved shootings.
On July 9, multiple Columbus police officers exchanged gunfire with men at the end of a robbery chase. The shootout on Interstate 70 closed the highway for hours and left a Columbus police officer seriously injured.
Two days later, Columbus police explained in a news release that Marsy’s Law required names of officers involved to be withheld. Because the suspects were shooting at the officers, all the officers were considered crime victims, according to the release.
A similar case in Florida involved a 13-year-old boy on a dirt bike killed as police tried to pull him over for riding recklessly. The Boynton Beach police officer who attempted the traffic stop argued he was the victim and therefore that his identity should be withheld.
Before the changes to Marsy’s Law, police departments did not have a legal reason to justify keeping officers’ identities secret. After several highly publicized killings of citizens by law enforcement, withholding officers’ names could further sow mistrust in the police.
Few would object to informing and protecting crime victims. But government must be accountable to the people. The principle of open government is one that must guide everything done in government for its public.
Each time we create new barriers to transparency, we lose more rights as citizens.
We call on our state legislators to investigate and revise Marsy’s Law, which is filled with unintended consequences and problems. It must be revisited before we become a society with no knowledge of what is happening around us and no way to find out.