Murder victim’s family denied aid because of prior drug use

6:00 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017 Local
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Editors’s note: A months-long I-Team investigation of Ohio’s Crime Victim Compensation Program found the amount of assistance paid through the program has been steadily declining for a decade. Last year the program denied more people than it approved, and now spends almost as much on staff salaries and overhead as it gives in aid. Victims and victims’ advocates say some of the rules are too stringent for a program funded by criminals to help make repair damages done by crimes. Read the full story here.

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Columbus attorney Michael Falleur says he routinely sees victims of assault who are denied help from the Ohio Victims Compensation Program because they have drugs in their system, and it doesn’t matter if the drugs are a factor in the crime.

“That dirty tox screen is going to disqualify them even if it had nothing to do with their victimization,” he said. “They ended that 30-minute high, yet they’re found to be in possession of drugs a week later.”

RELATED: Teen says she was raped, given drugs. Why was she denied aid from Ohio victims fund?

In a 2011 case Falleur pushed through the Ohio Court of Claims, a Columbus woman was killed by her ex-boyfriend who then committed suicide. Her autopsy found trace amounts of cocaine, meaning she had used the drug possibly days before she was murdered, according to Falleur.

A judge denied the claim saying the law was clear that even trace amounts of cocaine was evidence of felony conduct, meaning her children couldn’t get help with her burial, Falleur said.

“I don’t think that’s in the directive of the program,” he said.

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Elizabeth Well, legal director of the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center, said the program’s restrictions can undermine one of its goals, which is to encourage victims to report crimes.

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“Obviously we know we are in an opioid epidemic in Ohio, which has been progressively getting worse and worse and there are going to be more victims because (addicts) are the most vulnerable,” she said.

The Ohio Victims Compensation Fund program, funded mostly by court fees and administered by the Attorney General’s office, has been paying out less each year going back a decade even as the number of claims spiked, an I-Team investigation found.

FULL REPORT: Claims spike, but fewer victims get compensation

Program rules disqualify people with drugs in their system, even if the drugs had nothing to do with the crime or were taken days prior.

The program also disqualifies people believed to have committed felony crimes in the previous 10 years, regardless of whether they were charged or acquitted.

Matthew Kanai, chief of the AG’s crime victims service division, said his office has little discretion in awarding assistance and is guided by the eligibility rules laid out in the law.

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