Kentucky Voters May Get to Vote on Marsy’s Law Again

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Marsy’s Law has passed the Senate.

Senate Bill 15 would create a crime victim’s bill of rights within the Kentucky Constitution.

An almost identical constitutional amendment was ratified by 63 percent of Kentucky voters in 2018 but the Kentucky Supreme Court struck down the law saying the wording of the question did not accurately describe what the amendment would do.

Marsy’s Law gives rights to crime victims equal to those of the accused — including the right to be heard at sentencing and to be notified of court proceedings — this new version would require victims to be notified before any pardon or commutation of a sentence.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, has championed the issue for several years and says this is important to ensure crime victims have the same rights as defendants.

“The prosecutorial and judicial discretion that exists today will exist with Marsy’s Law in effect but those victims will have a voice that is protected in our constitution,” Westerfield said. “They deserve that, all tens of thousands of them that Kentucky sees every year. Those same victims that are too often re-traumatized by the same system that is supposed to find a just outcome to the criminal experience they’ve endured.”

Northern Kentucky Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, was the only senator to vote against the bill in 2018, he once again rose to speak against the measure.

He says he has concerns with pitting the constitution against itself and lack of consensus within the legal community over the measure.

“This bill will impede the ability to find the truth in our court system,” he said. “At the end of the day for victims most importantly, for defendants and for the public the most important thing is not a conviction, it’s not an acquittal, it’s to find the truth. This constitutional amendment quite simply puts the constitution in conflict with itself.”

Schickel also expressed concern with a large amount of outside money being pumped into Kentucky on this issue.

Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, a former prosecutor, was not present during the 2018 vote but spoke out against the measure calling it an affront to prosecutors and the judicial system.

“The purpose of the constitution is to protect us from government, not necessarily each other that’s why we have a criminal justice system and a penial code,” she said. “The constitutional purpose for the constitution, I think this is a stretch for that.”

The ACLU of Kentucky is also against the measure.

“Since the last time Marsy’s Law passed in Kentucky, we’ve seen unexpected and bizarre consequences in states like North Dakota, South Dakota, Nevada, and Florida. The victims’ constitutional right to privacy found in Marsy’s Law has been interpreted by some jurisdictions as requirement police withhold certain information from the public. Other states have reported delays and snags within the justice system, including bond or bail hearings that are often delayed pending victim notification, sometimes for weeks or even months.,” ACLU staff attorney Heather Gatnarek said in a statement. “The General Assembly is well-positioned to review Kentucky’s statutory Victims’ Bill of Rights, take a look at what is working and what is not, and make changes in that section to further ensure that victims are supported and heard as criminal cases move through the legal system. We strongly encourage legislators in the House to take that positive step, rather than voting for a constitutional amendment that will ultimately let victims down and cause widespread problems in our justice system.”

Marsy’s Law for Kentucky, however, is celebrating the passage of the bill.

“Crime victims and their advocates are celebrating today’s overwhelming Senate passage of SB 15, as momentum continues to build toward guaranteeing victims a voice in our state’s criminal justice system. Because of the strong, steady support by legislative leaders and community advocates in every corner of the Commonwealth, we are on track to put Marsy’s Law back on the ballot for Kentucky voters in 2020! Crime victims and their loved ones are counting on all of us, and we look forward to one day soon being able to empower them with the constitutionally protected rights they desire and deserve,” the organization said in a statement.

The bill heads to the House now.