by Craig A. Ruark
For individuals accused of committing a crime, and those convicted of a crime, the U.S. Constitution and the constitutions of each state has a list of rights afforded to them by law. However, neither the U.S. Constitution nor the constitutions of around a dozen states enumerate strong rights to the victims of crime.
Marsy’s Law for All seeks to amend state constitutions that don’t offer protection to crime victims and, eventually, the U.S. Constitution, to give the victims of crime, a set of rights equal to those already afforded to the accused and convicted.
During the 2015 and 2017 Nevada legislative sessions, state representatives in both the Assembly and Senate passed “Marsy’s Law for NV Rights to Protect Crime Victims” and, as required by the Nevada Constitution, the measure will appear on the November ballot as Question 1. This initiative must be approved by Nevada’s voters to solidify these victim’s rights as a Nevada Constitutional Amendment.
The push for the law started after 21-year-old Marsalee (Marsy) Nicholas, a beautiful, vibrant University of California Santa Barbara student, was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. Only a week after Marsy was murdered, Dr. Henry Nicholas and Mrs. Marcella Leach, Marsy’s brother and mother, walked into a grocery store after visiting her grave and were confronted by the accused murderer. They had no idea that he had been released on bail.
Part of Marsy’s Law would make it mandatory that Nevada victims and their families are notified before an attacker is released. It would also give the victims more of a voice in the criminal proceedings.
“Question 1/Marsy’s Law would guarantee that the victim has a voice during the court and penalty process. There are many judicial officials who keep victims involved in their case right now, but we want to make sure that it’s a constitutional right so victims have guaranteed protections,” said Will Batista, the State Director for Marsy’s law Nevada.
If approved by Nevada’s voters, the following rights to crime victims will become part of the Nevada Constitution:
- be treated with fairness and respect and be free from intimidation, harassment, and abuse throughout the criminal justice process;
- be reasonably protected from the defendant;
- have the safety of the victim and the victim’s family considered when setting bail;
- prevent the release of information the defendant could use to locate the victim;
- refuse an interview or deposition unless under court order;
- reasonably confer with the prosecuting agency;
- reasonable notice of all public proceedings and be present at all public proceedings;
- be reasonably heard at any public proceeding;
- the timely judgment of a case;
- provide information to officers concerning the impact of the crime on the victim;
- be informed of the conviction, sentence, incarceration, and release date of the defendant;
- full and timely restitution;
- prompt return of property when no longer needed as evidence;
- be informed of all post-conviction proceedings;
- have the safety of the victim, the victim’s family, and the public considered before any parole;
- have restitution money first applied to the amount ordered to the victim; and
- be informed of the rights in the amendment.
Going into this election, six other states have ratified constitutional amendments known as Marsy’s Law. The first of these states was California in 2008, where voters approved the citizen-initiated Proposition 9. In 2014, the Illinois State Legislature became the first legislature to refer a Marsy’s Law, which voters approved. Marsy’s Law for All sponsored initiative campaigns in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota in 2016 and Ohio in 2017.
In addition to Nevada, voters in Oklahoma, North Carolina, Kentucky, Georgia, and Florida will also consider Marsy’s Law amendments during the 2018 election.
Dr. Henry Nicholas, the co-founder and former co-chairman of the board, president and chief executive officer of Broadcom Corporation, and brother to Marsy Nicholas, has provided financial backing for each of the initiatives rather than ask for donations from citizens to fund the effort.
While an official opposition to Marsy’s Law has not been filed in Nevada, the ACLU has posted their opposition to the law on their website stating, “This national effort seeks a specific list of constitutional rights for crime victims more expansive than the statutory rights afforded victims in every state. Granting victims constitutional rights equal to the accused in criminal proceedings inappropriately undermines due process by creating conflict between victim and defendant rights. It also exacerbates flagrant inequalities in our criminal legal system.”
Despite the opposition by the ACLU, Marsy’s Law has not been rejected by the voters in any of the state ballot initiatives. In Nevada, Marsy’s Law is widely supported by lawmakers in both major parties, as well as city and county leaders, civic figures, heads of law enforcement, advocacy agencies and victims of crime. Among the many officials endorsing Marsy’s Law for Nevada are Governor Brian Sandoval, Lt. Governor Mark Hutchison, Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, Nevada US Senator Dean Heller, Nevada US Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, Washoe County District Attorney Chris Hicks, Washoe County Sheriff Chuck Allen, Reno Police Chief Jason Soto, Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson and Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo.
Nevada voters will have the final say on Question 1 and this proposal to expand victims’ rights in the November election.