Marsy's Law

An Ohio City Is Declaring Itself a 'Crime Victim' of a False Police Report and Demanding Restitution

Ohio's Marsy’s Law has the potential to be abused for municipal cash grabs.

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An Ohio city is trying to use the state's Marsy's Law—intended to protect the rights of crime victims—to demand a man pay them back the costs of sending police to respond to a false 911 call.

Back in April 2018, Michael Knab dialed 911 from his home in Centerville, Ohio, telling a police dispatcher that there was an active shooter there and that somebody had been shot. There was no shooter. Police searched the home and didn't even find any firearms. According to a court report of the case, witnesses said Knab had been smoking meth and was hallucinating. A friend who was temporarily living at the home also testified that Knab had mild schizophrenia.

Knab was subsequently charged and convicted of filing a false police report and misusing a 911 system. But the city didn't stop there. Centerville claimed that as a "victim" of a crime—Knab's false 911 call—the city was entitled to financial restitution under the state's Marsy's Law. It wanted Knab to pay back $1,375.56 to the Centerville Police Department for the cost of responding to the call.

Knab is resisting. He appealed both his conviction (arguing that he genuinely believed he was in danger when he called 911) and the demands for restitution. The courts have upheld his conviction but the Court of Appeals for Ohio's Second Appellate District in Montgomery County has tossed out the restitution demands. The court ruled that while a city can be a victim of crimes like embezzlement and vandalism, government agencies cannot be considered "victims" of crimes that they're responding to in an official capacity. It cannot demand restitution simply for the cost of responding to calls based on the wording of the law.

Centerville asked the Ohio Supreme Court to take the case and reconsider the lower court's ruling. The court has said it will consider the question of whether a municipality can qualify as a "victim" under Marsy's Law.

This conflict is a result of one of the top criticisms of Marsy's Laws—they're vague about what constitutes a victim, and therefore leave open the possibility of any number of unusual claims for financial restitution. The Ohio Marsy's Law expands the definition of victim to include "a person against whom the criminal offense or delinquent act is committed or who is directly and proximately harmed by the commission of the offense or act."

The second part of this definition has set off any number of alarm bells from critics. Who is to decide who is "directly and proximately harmed" by a crime? Municipalities insist that pretty much every crime from drug use to homelessness causes the municipality economic harm. What would stop Centerville from demanding restitution from defendants for every crime that requires police intervention? If this restitution demand is upheld, doesn't this both discourage people from calling 911 and potentially encourage police to arrest people who do if they decide the calls weren't serious enough?

The American Civil Liberties Union in Ohio has submitted an amicus brief supporting Knab's claim. And last week, the editorial board of The Columbus Dispatch took a formal position opposing Centerville's demand for restitution. It warns that "allowing cities to collect money as 'crime victims' would create an unhealthy incentive for local governments to file criminal charges and would put them in competition with true victims for restitution dollars."

More about the unintended consequences of victims' rights laws here.

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  1. Libertarian Theory: All drugs should be legal. But the users of those drugs should be responsible for their actions

    Libertarian Practice: In a drug-induced state, Meth-crazed loser makes false 911 Call. Taxpayers pick up the tab.

    1. Good point, but I dont think 5 cops * 15 minutes is worth $1400

      1. When you consider the fixed costs of running the police force and the total compensation given to the typical cop, $1400 is high but not that high.

        Fuck this guy. He should pay up.

    2. Libertarian Theory: All drugs should be legal. But the users of those drugs should be responsible for their actions

      Libertarian Practice: In a drug-induced state, Meth-crazed loser makes false 911 Call. Taxpayers pick up the tab.

      Safe injection sites for all.

  2. But I would argue that the costs for the 911 call (essentially the salaries of the police, 911 operator, etc.) are all sunk costs anyway. The 911 call didn’t cause off-duty officers to bill for overtime. The officers are on duty. And they are being paid whether they respond to a 911 call, or are running random driver’s license plates.
    Of course, one could discuss opportunity costs, but it would seem the benefits to the taxpayers of a cop busting 1 or 2 more drivers for busted tail lights is small compared to the salary of the cop anyway.
    As far as anyone can tell, the caller honestly thought he was in danger. “But he was on drugs!! And that makes it NOT OKAY!!”
    What if the same person ODs on meth and is taken to County General. The ER at the hospital cannot refuse treatment in this case. Even if he can’t pay. Is the same person then guilty of stealing from the county? If so, how about the homeless person who severely hurts himself doing something stupid. Is he stealing from the county when the ER treats him?

    1. ” The 911 call didn’t cause off-duty officers to bill for overtime. The officers are on duty.”

      As was the 911 operator, the dispatcher, and everyone else in the police department. Maybe they could make a case they are out ten bucks for the extra gas, but that is about it.

      1. Time is money. They are out the full cost of however many man hours this cost.

        1. And the point above is that unless they were on overtime or were prevented from doing something that itself had to be paid for with overtime, the incremental time spent is zero.

  3. So this dumb ass called 911 and got the police to come out thinking there was a shooting going on. That act in itself could have gotten someone killed. Given the track record of police in this country, it is surprising it didn’t.

    The city has every right to demand restitution. It is not the “city” it is the taxpayers. The taxpayers pay for a police department to enforce the law. They don’t pay for it to respond to crank calls by dumb asses having a bad day on meth.

    The city has a duty to the taxpayers to make this asshole pay the costs of the false report. I can’t for the life of me see any reason why he shouldn’t pay. Why is reason taking his side other than reason really seems to have a soft spot for drug users who do stupid shit?

    1. But how was the City victimized?

      1. someone stole their services under false pretenses.

        1. Bingo. This is fraud, something most libertarians understand is an actual crime and one of the few things we actually need a government to prevent.

          Being on meth doesn’t excuse other criminal activity. As Milo points out up top, this guy should have the freedom to ingest whatever substances he pleases, but that is not an excuse for any criminal activity that follows.

          If being under the influence gets you out of these types of crimes, I’m gonna get super fucked up before signing any kind of financial documents going forward. I get to get high AND avoid any personal responsibility, it’s a win win!

        2. And the government stole someone’s money already to pay for those services. If someone pays taxes ( granted this guy probably hasn’t) then they have already paid for the service; making this double taxation.

          I don’t know what is right though, the personal responsibility argument sways me to think this guy should take responsibility.

          1. You paid for those services in a certain context. In the case of police, that context involves responding to actual crimes.

            Getting fucked up and calling them whenever you please is not in that context. I certainly can’t call them and ask them to deliver me a pizza merely because I pay taxes.

            1. I agree to certain extent but then I could see them going hog wild with this. Civil asset forfeiture would only be used for the drug king pins, they promised. This case isn’t bad, but that is how they start. I don’t trust governments won’t abuse the shit out of this given the chance. Seen it once to often to trust them with new powers, when I don’t want them to have much of the power they have today.

              Going to have too mull this one over. It conflicts with my personal responsibility belief (especially when it comes to drugs, as a user of them from time to time) and my distrust of government. authority.

              1. It’s a valid concern, but I think it’s mostly self-correcting because these people have to win elections. Prosecuting grandma because she was confused doesn’t go over well, whereas prosecuting meth heads for not being able to handle their drugs is a lot more popular.

                I do agree that giving them new powers is generally a bad idea. They will certainly try to find a way to pervert their new authority. This guy made a mistake that cost the public some money and he’s being told he has to pay it back, I don’t really have much of a problem with that so I don’t think this particular hill is worth dying on.

                I know, at first they came for the meth heads and I said nothing…

  4. What would stop Centerville from demanding restitution from defendants for every crime that requires police intervention?

    Public outcry when police intervention is “required” too much?

    1. I don’t see anything about this case that would allow the city to get money from someone who made a legitimate call to the police. Moreover, even if they could, I seriously doubt the voters of the town would be too happy to find out they could be sued if they ever called the cops no matter urgent and legitimate the reason to do so. So, I find it hard to believe the city government would be too keen on going after victims of crimes for calling the police.

  5. At $1300, I think the claim is reasonable.

    I’d have a different opinion if they had concocted a $13,000 bill.

    1. Well they are sure to hit him up with interest payments, late fees, and attorney fees in a few weeks bringing up the total to the $10,000+ range.

    2. By the time this goes to trial it’ll be $130,000.

  6. I believe that the government should not be allowed to charge extra for legitimate and necessary service calls, that is exactly what we’re paying taxes for. Illegitimate and unnecessary service calls, on the other hand, put undue burdens and costs on the system and therefore definitely should be charged to the person making the illegitimate and unnecessary service call.

    Hillary Clinton and Hunter Biden will be in charge of deciding which service calls are legitimate and necessary and which are not. I’ve got my fingers crossed for when Grandma calls 911 to report a suspicious noise outside her bedroom window.

  7. $1,375.56? Pretty specific.
    I would love to see a breakdown. Unless they are fraudulently charging for salaries that would be paid anyway, or for the use of patrol vehicles that would were in use anyway, what exactly are those charges for?
    Maybe the whole charge is for the 10 minutes it took the town lawyer to think up the bill.

  8. What’s the Jussie Smollett tab for Chicago?

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