While technological advances in recent years have greatly enhanced the ability of law enforcement officials to solve crimes, they still depend on information from witnesses to assist them in their efforts. Although in most cases this is a straightforward process, there are instances where an offender will try to intimidate a witness in an attempt to hinder the judicial process. That is why I recently co-sponsored House Bill 20, legislation that will strengthen the intimidation protections afforded to victims, witnesses and attorneys. This legislation fixes a loophole in the Ohio Revised Code and gives witnesses to a crime rightful protection from intimidation. Previously, witnesses were only protected during formal investigations, trial, and after trial. The law did not directly address protection from intimidation immediately following the crime and prior to legal involvement or investigation. This gap of time let criminals threaten witnesses after the perpetrated action without relationship to potential proceedings. The new law will prohibit the types of witness intimidations that deprive police and prosecutors of criminal evidence. House Bill 20 expands the first-degree misdemeanor and third-degree felony violations of intimidation to include juvenile delinquency actions as well as criminal actions. The third-degree felony prohibition previously only prohibited a person from knowingly attempting to influence, intimidate or hinder a victim, witness or attorney by force or by unlawful threat of harm to any person or property. Now the prohibition includes unlawful threats to commit any offense against a person. House Bill 20 seeks to protect the integrity of Ohio's justice system, by prohibiting intimidation before charges are filed. Under the new law, witnesses are protected regardless of whether an action or proceeding is pending. We need witnesses to feel protected, and to also be lawfully protected, so that we can get the testimony or facts needed to resolve cases. House Bill 20 passed unanimously out of the Ohio House of Representatives and the Ohio Senate. It was signed by Governor Kasich on March 2. As always, please do not hesitate to contact my office if you have questions or concerns about any state-related matter. You can reach my office by phone at (614) 466-0626, by e-mail at SD29@ohiosenate.gov or by writing State Senator Scott Oelslager, Ohio Statehouse, 1 Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 43215.
Senator Oelslager represents Ohio's 29th District which contains a portion of Stark County. He serves as Chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
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