Issue: Marsy's Law or "Crime Victims' Rights Amendment"

 

On the November 5, 2019 ballot, will be a ballot referendum seeking to add Marsy's Law Crime Victims' Rights Amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution.  

The League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania (LWVPA) has compiled the following information for review and recommends Pennsylvanians vote "NO."

 On your ballot you will read the following:

 

“Shall the Pennsylvania constitution be amended to grant certain rights to crime victims including to be treated with fairness, respect and dignity; considering their safety in bail proceedings; timely notice and opportunity to take part in public proceedings; reasonable protection from the accused; right to refuse discovery requests made by the accused; restitution and return of property; proceedings free from delay; and to be informed of these rights, so they can enforce them. “

 

A YES vote means approval of the constitutional amendment.

A NO vote means disapproval of the constitutional amendment.

 

League Explanation of Issue:

Marsy's Law will alter the state constitution to significantly expand rights to victims, and in some cases victims' families or relatives directly harmed by an accused. Marsy's Law is named after Marsy Nicholas, a woman stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. One week after her death, her mother and brother, Henry, walked into a grocery store where they saw the accused murderer. The family had no idea that he had been released on bail. Her brother, Dr. Henry T. Nicholas, a billionaire from California, is the key backer and proponent of Marsy's Law.

The "Marsy's Law for all" campaign seeks through ballot measures to enshrine in state constitutions a set of victims’ rights laws, like that proposed in Pennsylvania. The campaign’s goal is to pass this in every state constitution and then to amend the U.S. Constitution to include victims’ rights. Nearly $850,000 has been spent lobbying in Pennsylvania since December 2017.  Nationwide, since the first Marsy's Law passed by ballot measure in California in 2008, $102.26M has been spent.  Of this, Dr. Nicholas contributed about 97%.

Pennsylvania has existing statutory laws supporting crime victims, specifically the Crime Victims Act of 1998. Marsy's Law would go further altering the state constitution to expand existing statutory rights to ensure that crime  victims and their families have  a meaningful  role  throughout  criminal  and  juvenile justice systems; provide crime victims with specific constitutional rights, including the right to be treated  with fairness  and  respect  for  the  victim’s safety, dignity, and privacy; to be notified about and present at proceedings; to be heard at proceedings involving  release,  plea,  sentencing,  disposition,  or parole of the accused; to a prompt conclusion of the case; to reasonable protection from the accused or those acting on behalf of the accused; to be notified about release or escape of the accused; to refuse an interview, deposition or discovery at the request of the  accused;  and  full and timely  restitution  from  the individual or entity convicted of the criminal offense.

Marsy’s Law is premised on the notion that victims should have “equal rights” to defendants yet the U.S. Constitution and all 50 state constitutions guarantee defendants’ rights because they are rights against the state, not because defendants are valued more than victims and their families.  Defendants’ rights only apply when the state is attempting to deprive the accused – not the victim – of life, liberty, or property. They serve as essential checks against government abuse, preventing the government from arresting and imprisoning anyone, for any reason, at any time.

Marsy’s Law initiatives started in California and doubled from 6, to 12 passed, in 2018. However, many states' legislatures have not passed Marsy's Law or it was overturned as unconstitutional or improper after was passed into law.

 

Pros: 

1.      This proposed amendment will increase the legal rights and privileges of victims and their families.

2.      It will ensure victims and their families are informed when the accused offender is released from custody.

3.      It will require crime victims be informed of their rights.

4.      It will protect victims and their families from the accused, or from those assisting the accused.

 

Cons:

1.      The amendment would override state law, eliminating judges' abilities to weigh the rights of victims and defendants.

2.      The amendment would alter nine provisions of the constitution without submitting each constitutional change separately as a ballot question as required by the PA Supreme Court.

3.      Victims are already protected by the PA Crime Victims Act of 1998.

4.      Victims could refuse to be interviewed or to turn over pertinent evidence or testimony.

5.      Passage would create additional costs and needs on law enforcement, courts and government officials.

 

Proponents: Marsy's Law for Pennsylvania campaign, Governor Wolf, Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association

Opponents: ACLU of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania