Spotlight: RISE Project Partner Profile: Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center

Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center

RISE Project Partner Profile

A core aspect of the RISE Project is NCVLI subgranting to six direct service providers to provide legal representation to assist victims in asserting and seeking enforcement of their rights in criminal cases, and, as necessary during and in support of such representation, provide those victims representation on collateral civil legal matters arising from the victimization. Following a competitive selection process, six were selected. Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center is one of them.

What is the mission of your agency and how does the RISE Project fit within that?

Founded in 2000, Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center’s (OCVJC) mission is to ensure that Ohio state and federal crime victims are treated with fairness and respect for their safety, dignity, and privacy during the criminal justice process, they are informed of their rights, their voices are heard, and the rights they choose to exercise are protected and enforced from the time of first report through post release control. The RISE Project allows OCVJC to increase the number of victims served in the western region of Ohio, increase the number of victims’ rights attorneys in Ohio, and join a network of Clinics across the country to collaborate on these important issues. These efforts perfectly align with OCVJC’s mission and OCVJC is proud to partner with Legal Aid of Western Ohio (LAWO) and NCVLI to ensure that all Ohio crime victims have access to no cost legal assistance to protect and enforce their rights.

When and how did you first start working with NCVLI?

OCVJC began working with NCVLI in 2003 after attending NCVLI’s 2003 Crime Victim Law Conference. Since that time, NCVLI has provided invaluable training to all OCVJC victims’ rights attorneys and advocates through their annual conferences. NCVLI has also provided technical assistance and amicus support on critical cases to support and advance crime victims’ rights. In 2014, NCVLI honored OCVJC’s Executive Director with the Gail Burns-Smith Excellence in Victims’ Service Award.

Tell us about a recent success/deliverable of your RISE Clinic.

There are three to highlight. First, OCVJC recently hosted a four-hour webinar that reached over 150 people including judges, prosecutors, advocates, and law enforcement. This webinar is expected to generate a lot of interest in victims’ rights and increase protection of victims’ rights. This is in addition to the numerous outreach meetings OCVJC and LAWO have conducted to increase awareness of the RISE Project.

Second, in a recent case, a victim learned that her offender was released when her friend saw him at a local grocery store. After contacting the prosecutor, the victim learned that the court had released the offender due to COVID-19 without holding a hearing, notifying the victim, or notifying the prosecutor. OCVJC filed a motion to assert the victim’s rights. At a subsequent hearing, the judge apologized for violating the victim’s rights and provided her an opportunity to be heard. The judge promised to consider enforcing the remainder of the offender’s sentence as soon as COVID-19 allowed. The victim was very satisfied with the outcome.

Finally, in a recent appellate case, an elderly woman was a victim of theft and breaking and entering after allowing a member of her church to use her office space. The trial court heard restitution evidence post-Marsy’s Law, but did not grant the victim any restitution. OCVJC filed a writ of mandamus to ask the Eighth District Court of Appeals to compel the trial court to hold a restitution hearing. The Eighth District granted the writ of mandamus and ordered the trial court to hold a hearing to determine the amount of restitution.

What motivates you to do the work that you do with victims’ rights in your community?

OCVJC attorneys and advocates have seen the profound effect that protecting and enforcing victims’ rights can have for those victims whose rights were violated. Ensuring crime victims are provided the ability to exercise their rights is often crucial to a victim’s recovery and sense of justice. In one case, a human trafficking survivor said: “It was empowering to have an attorney fighting to protect my rights. For the first time since this all started, I mattered. Thank you!” This is one example of hundreds of positive outcomes OCVJC has been able to achieve for crime victims across the state. Every crime victim deserves to feel like they matter, and achieving these outcomes for our clients motivates OCVJC staff to do this work.

Why should other individuals, clinics, and/or organizations get involved with victims’ rights enforcement?

Too many victims experience additional trauma when their rights are violated during the criminal justice process. This process often leaves victims feeling as if they do not matter and are merely “pieces of evidence.” Subsequently, they tell their friends and families about their experience and crime reporting rates drops. This is particularly true for crimes involving sexual violence. Enforcing victims’ rights leads to a better experience for crime victims and can aid in their healing and recovery. If victims’ rights are enforced uniformly, we can help minimize additional trauma and increase victim trust in the criminal justice process. When victims are treated with respect and have the ability to enforce their rights, crime reporting increases. Lastly, every state provides statutory rights for crime victims. Many state constitutions provide meaningful enforceable rights for crime victims and others are working to amend their constitutions to provide clearly defined avenues for enforcement. In addition, the federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act provides meaningful enforceable rights to victims of federal crimes. There is an opportunity to become involved in victims’ rights enforcement in every state and NCVLI can provide invaluable training and technical assistance as you begin this remarkable and historical journey.

What would you most like for the victims’ rights movement to accomplish in the next five years? How does your work to aid in that accomplishment?

OCVJC would like to see the establishment of case law surrounding Marsy’s Law that supports the uniform enforcement of the constitutional amendment. The passage of Marsy’s Law gave Ohio victims the ability to enforce their rights through appellate action for the first time. OCVJC is leading the way to litigate these cases involving victims’ right to privacy, safety, and restitution, among many others. The establishment of robust case law will ensure that more victims’ rights are protected and there is precedent for courts to follow for years to come.

Why should other individuals, clinics, and/or organizations partner with NCVLI?

NCVLI is the national leader in crime victims’ rights enforcement. Their team has a wealth of knowledge on victims’ rights litigation and training that is an amazing resource for any partner to rely on. In addition to their expertise in victims’ rights, NCVLI’s team is a fun group that loves dogs and is always enjoyable to talk to. OCVJC would encourage any organization to partner with NCVLI and join the movement to protect and enforce crime victims’ rights.

Learn more about the Rights in Systems Enforced Project here.