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National Crime Victim Law Institute

Fighting When No One Else Can

April 19, 2011

In 2006, an Ohio victim was defrauded of tens of thousands of dollars by his business partner.  On August 25, 2008, as the case was moving through investigation and prosecution, the defendant successfully moved to put the case under seal, meaning that no one other than the prosecution, defense, or the court can know what is happening in the case.  For the victim, this meant that he did not know what was happening in the case, and had no way to figure it out.  He did not know that the prosecution and defense were reaching a plea deal; he did not know what would be in that deal; and he did not know whether he would get restitution for his substantial losses.  When he asked what was happening, he was repeatedly told nothing.   

That’s when NCVLI and its Maryland clinic entered the picture.  The clinic became the victim’s attorney and NCVLI provided legal research and support.  Together we fought to unseal the case and have the victim declared a legal victim who had the ability to exercise his right to be notified, present, and heard at sentencing and to receive restitution.  When they lost at the trial court, NCVLI and its clinic fought all the way up to the federal appellate court.  Fortunately, we won. 

In the victim’s own words:

“In May of 2008, my life was turned upside down at the arrest of a con artist …. I had lost my livelihood, health insurance benefits for my sons and me, my transportation, my coffeehouse, and somebody who I trusted and believed to be a best friend in my life.  … I did not know where to turn…  With [the Clinic’s] continued legal expertise and representation, following motions and appeals and many trips … to Columbus, OH due to defense requested continuances, I was recognized as a victim of crime and was able to be present and to be heard by the court in the proceedings and sentencing of [Defendant] for his crimes.  The representation that [the Clinic] provided on my behalf, which included a major victory in having sealed records opened for our awareness, was remarkable.  I was able to present an impact statement at the sentencing, and the victory of ordered restitution to me was yet another euphoria.” 

The case is not over, however.  Defendant has asked an appellate court to undo his plea and sentence, and he is again challenging whether the victim is entitled to restitution.  We will continue to fight for this victim to ensure that his rights are protected and enforced.

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Because victims need attorneys standing with them in court to ensure that their independent voice is heard, NCVLI launched its Network of Victims’ Rights Enforcement Clinics.  These clinics provide essential services to victims across the country, like this Ohio victim.