Cleveland City Hall

Bibb Administration Embraces Victim-Centered Approach with Marsy’s Law, Aligning with Numerous Other Agencies in the State

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

The Law Was Expanded Last July to Provide Additional Rights and Layers of Privacy to Victims of Crime

Wednesday, May 15, 2024 — Cleveland — In July of last year, the State legislature amended Marsy’s law to expand rights and provide additional layers of privacy to victims of crime.  Victims, or their representatives, are now afforded the opportunity to opt-in to having their personal identifying information (PII) redacted from reports at the onset of certain cases (e.g. their name, address, phone number, etc.).  If they are initially unable to fill out the form, the law defaults to redaction of PII for all records related to the case until the victim, or their representative, makes the decision.  Only public offices or public officials that are “charged with the responsibility of knowing the name, address, or other identifying information of a victim… as part of [their] duties shall have full and complete access to [that information].”

“Crime reporting rates for victims of violent crime—particularly domestic violence and sex crimes—are devastatingly low.  Victims of crime need safety and privacy before we can expect them to participate in the criminal justice process and help to hold an offender accountable.  One goal of the Marsy’s Law constitutional amendment and House Bill 343 was to provide victims that critical safety and privacy by allowing them to request redaction of their names, addresses, and identifying information from public records.

My office (along with many other criminal justice officials and victim service professionals) was involved in both the passage of the constitutional amendment and the drafting of House Bill 343, and the intent was that victim safety and privacy be strictly protected by ensuring that access to victim information is limited to those officials who need the information to perform their official duties within the criminal justice system.

Any wider release of private victim information without victim permission undermines a victim’s privacy, safety, and belief that victims’ rights are meaningful.”

-  Elizabeth Well, Legal Director, Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center

After the law was amended, the City of Cleveland’s Law Department and Division of Police conducted research to determine how to best implement the changes.  That included numerous conversations with multiple cities, departments, and agencies – both locally and across the State – so that Cleveland was aligned with best practices in other jurisdictions.  Out of the 17 that were contacted, ALL of them held the position that legislative body members should NOT receive unredacted victim information unless victims opt-out from the onset of certain cases (e.g. the law does not apply to homicides).  Those other agencies include – Columbus, Cincinnati, Ohio State Highway Patrol, Akron, Canton, Dayton, Youngstown, Solon, Dublin, Lake County Sheriff’s Office, Highland Heights, Euclid, Brooklyn, Newburgh Heights, Amherst, Willoughby, and Wooster.

The City of Cleveland followed suit and implemented changes last fall.  Recently, some members of Cleveland City Council have been outspoken on the issue, asserting they are entitled to unredacted information – which includes the names, addresses, and phone numbers of rape and sexual assault victims.  In order to seek clarity on this issue, as well as protect both the City and City Council from potential future litigation, the Law Department has asked the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office to formally request an opinion from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

“This is solely a matter of doing what’s right for victims by ensuring that we are following the law,” said Law Director Mark Griffin.  “We want to work collaboratively with City Council to ensure we are providing them with what they need to perform their equally-important duties as the legislative branch of the City.  At the same time, we know that approximately two-thirds of sexual assaults go unreported – thus making it imperative that we are being extremely careful about who information is being shared with so we are not further perpetuating victims’ hesitancy to report crimes.”

The Administration is committed to keeping City Council apprised of public safety matters and will continue to meet with councilmembers – both individually and collectively – to discuss issues and provide information they need to make informed decisions.

“If there is any particular crime or safety issue that arises in any ward and a councilmember wants more information, we will provide that,” said Mayor Justin M. Bibb.  “I have instructed members of my Administration to meet directly with councilmembers to discuss private matters of cases to ensure they are being heard and have what they need to respond to their constituents.”

The Bibb Administration is unequivocally committed to protecting the rights of crime victims through the adherence to Marsy’s Law, which was passed in 2017 by an overwhelming 83% of Ohio voters.  Marsy’s law outlines procedures “to ensure victims’ rights are protected from the time law enforcement makes its initial contact with the victim through the completion of the offender’s sentence or disposition.”  The Supreme Court of Ohio outlines those rights, which includes the Right to be Informed, the Right to be Present, the Right to be Heard, the Right to Privacy, and others.