Marsy's Law boosts crime victims' rights at a high cost to government, defendants, and justice

Angelica Danner and her daughter Liana lay roses at headstones in Arlington National Cemetery May 28, 2017, in Arlington, Virginia.

Marsy Nicholas was shot in the head by her ex-boyfriend in 1983, dying hours later. Just a week after her murder, her mother and brother ran into her killer in public. He was out on bail, but no one had told them. They argued that the pain of the confrontation could have been averted had they been notified of his release. Her brother, Henry Nicholas, became an advocate for victims’ rights. And so Marsy’s Law, a crime victim bill of rights, was born.

Marsy’s Law requires crime victims be notified about criminal proceedings, permitted to participate in relevant proceedings, and protected from the accused. It also mandates that victims are entitled to privacy and have the prerogative to refuse to cooperate with investigations and legal proceedings short of a subpoena or court order. California passed the bill in 2008. 

Nicholas went on to found an organization, Marsy’s Law for All. With a net worth of $3.3 billion, he funds the organization out of pocket. Nicholas was behind the adoption of similar laws in Illinois, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Ohio, though Montana’s did not survive state supreme court review. The dark irony is, Nicholas has been accused of assaulting women, among other crimes.

On Nov. 8, 2018, Nicholas saw another major victory: Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Nevada, North Carolina, and Oklahoma passed versions of Marsy’s Law.

All six new iterations of Marsy’s Law contain the same core elements as the original California bill. There are a few variations. Georgia’s law creates a single process for crime victims to challenge any violation of their rights. Florida, Kentucky, and Oklahoma added language dictating that victims’ rights be protected “in a manner no less vigorous” than the accused’s rights. 

These laws have grave downsides.

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