Marsy’s Law Sees Victory in Kentucky

A law that is intended to give victims of crimes the same rights as those who have allegedly committed them, passed in Kentucky, now one of a small number of states that have already adopted it. The brother of California college student, Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas, who was murdered in 1983, has long pushed for the law.

Amending the Kentucky State Constitution

Marsy’s Law, voted for by Kentuckians, will amend the Kentucky state constitution in order to give crime victims equal protection to criminal defendants under the law. As a constitutional amendment, it required voter approval. But despite the victory, a recent court ruling has found that the wording is too vague and fails to sufficiently describe the impact that it has on the constitution.

Kentucky Supreme Court Must Still Rule

The celebration of it s passing could prove short lived, as it “rests with the nine members of the Kentucky Supreme Court” who are currently reviewing the constitutional challenge to it. Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate shared his concern for the lack of scope that the amendment specifies. “The electorate cannot be expected to vote on a constitutional amendment of which they are not adequately informed of the substance.” However, because Wingate found it to be too late to remove the law from the ballot, he ruled that the Secretary of State could count the votes, though the results may not be certified until after it has been heard by the State Supreme Court.

The ballot question asked “Are you in favor of providing constitutional rights to the victims of crime, including the right to be treated fairly, with dignity and respect, and the right to be informed and have a voice in the judicial process?”

Murder Victim’s Brother Advocates

The law has been pushed for through an extensive lobbying and advertising campaign that was financed by Nicholas’ brother, Dr. Henry Nicholas. Ads for the law featured actor Kelsey Grammer, whose father and sister were both murdered. The wealthy founder of technology company, Broadcom Corp., has spent at least $27 million nationwide with the goal of seeing the amendment adopted in every state. According to financial records, this year in Kentucky he spent $4.59 million.

Other States Vote for Law

Marsy’s Law has also been voted for and approved in Florida, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, and Oklahoma. The law was initially approved in California (the state where its namesake’s murder took place), and was also adopted by Ohio last year.

Potential Unintended Consequences

The proposal was not without opposition, with prosecutors, lawyers, and advocates for domestic violence victims sharing concerns about the law’s potential unintended consequences. Some of which include:

  • Perpetrators of DV turning the law against their accusers, also claiming to be victims;
  • Delays caused by persistence that victims must speak at each stage of the proceedings; and
  • A reduction in the presumption of innocence by qualifying the accuser as a victim even before a finding of guilt.

If the Kentucky Supreme Court upholds Wingate’s ruling, it would likely still have to be rewritten for legislative approval that could give it the legs to survive any constitutional challenges.

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