CINCINNATI -- Advocates describe Issue One -- better known nationally as Marsy's Law -- as a Bill of Rights for crime victims, but the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio announced Wednesday it believes the legislation could infringe on the rights of defendants in criminal cases.
"We're already critical of the criminal justice system for being overly punitive," attorney Brandon Brown, who has worked with the Innocence Project, said. "You don't want to add another emotional component to that."
Marsy's Law, named for 1983 murder victim Marsalee Nicholas, has been the law of the land in California since 2008. It guarantees victims of crime a list of 17 rights in criminal court, including the right to refuse interviews with the defense, to be protected from the person they have accused of a crime and to address the court before a plea or verdict is finalized. In essence, it's meant to be the equivalent of a Miranda warning for a person who accuses another of a crime.
Both proponents and opponents of the legislation emphasize the increased prominence and power it would give accusers in criminal proceedings. For opponents such as Brown, that power is dangerous -- they fear it might impede a defendant's right to a speedy trial and encourage longer criminal sentences as well as longer parole denials.
For those who believe it's necessary, such as Cheryl Cole-Candelaresi, that power is a physical and emotional safeguard.
Cole-Candelaresi's husband, Cincinnati Police Office David Cole, was shot to death in 1974 by two men attempting to rob a United Dairy Farmers. Both were convicted of his murder, but Cole's surviving family members were never notified that one -- Ricardo Woods -- was released from prison in 1994. They had to find out from a newspaer.
"For him to be walking out freely, it was just so horrifying," Cole-Candelaresi said.
Marsy's Law would give families like hers notice when people convicted of crimes against them were eligible for parole and release as well as allowing them to weigh in at each stage of the criminal process.
"I think that by voting for it, we're protecting innocent people," Dana Baxter said.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters agreed. He said he believes the Ohio passage of Marsy's Law would prevent "unjust surprises in the legal system."
But the ACLU of Ohio's Gary Daniels told public radio station WOSU it could merely transfer "unjust surprises" to people accused of crimes, rather than fixing fundamental problems with the criminal justice system. He said he was especially concerned about the fourth and fifth listed rights, which allow an accuser to avoid participation in interviews and depositions with the defense.
"There are perfectly logical and reasonable reasons why somebody might seek information from a crime victim when they are being accused of a crime," he said. "That's just part of the everyday give and take of the justice system."