Ohio Supreme Court decides gun access case under Marsy’s Law

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 22, 2021

COLUMBUS (AP) — An Ohio woman has successfully challenged her abusive ex-husband’s right to possess a gun, under a crime victims’ rights law amended into the state Constitution in 2017.

The state Supreme Court ruling on Thursday agreed with a lower court’s decision against a judge’s order that had granted the ex-husband relief from a federal gun restriction under an Ohio law that allows for lifting gun limits if someone’s conviction is fully discharged, and other conditions.

In the 4-3 decision, the court said Jamie Suwalski could invoke what’s known as Marsy’s Law to register a protest against the order involving her former spouse, Roy Ewing, after he was convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence against her.

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The law is named for Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas, a California woman killed in 1983 by her ex-boyfriend.

He was released from jail without notification to Nicholas.

The law requires police to notify victims or their families when an offender is released from jail or escapes, and guarantees a victim’s “right to be treated with respect, fairness and dignity throughout the criminal justice process.” Versions of Marsy’s Law are in place in about 10 states.

Justices found that Warren County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Peeler was not authorized under state law to grant Ewing’s request to have a federal firearms restriction lifted. The restriction was triggered by Ewing’s 2017 conviction.

The court backed Suwalski’s right to seek a writ of prohibition from the Twelfth District Court of Appeals, where she argued Peeler lacked jurisdiction to lift Ewing’s gun restriction and contended that her right to safety and protection as a crime victim under Marsy’s Law had been violated.

The court found in Suwalski’s favor and Ewing appealed.

In Thursday’s decision, the Supreme Court’s majority said the writ of prohibition was the right mechanism for Suwalski to use.

The majority also rejected Ewing’s argument that intervening in a gun proceeding isn’t among the rights secured by Marsy’s Law.

Marsy’s Law for Ohio, the group that championed the constitutional amendment, said its provisions assure victims equal rights under the law, “nothing more, nothing less.”

“Nothing in Marsy’s Law affects the constitutional right of the accused and convicted in Ohio or any other state, including a person’s rights to possess firearms,” the group said in a statement.

The group added, “This case is not about gun rights, it’s simply about upholding the right of a victim to petition the courts and to be heard.”

Dissenting justices said Marsy’s Law did not provide Suwalski the right to challenge Peeler’s orders.

They said she did not specifically claim to have been treated without fairness and respect for her safety, and that Ewing is no longer an accused person.