Case is Made for Marsy's Law in Kentucky

Posted on September 28, 2017

     Voters in Kentucky may soon get a chance to decide if the state’s constitution should protect a crime victim’s rights. Marsy’s Law is a proposal that will go before the 2018 Regular Session of the General Assembly. It calls for a referendum in the 2018 election that would allow voters to decide on an amendment to the Kentucky Constitution to guarantee victims of crimes certain rights.

     Kentucky is one of only 15 states that does not currently provide some type of victim’s rights protection. Senator Whitney Westerfield (R-Hopkinsville) filed the bill calling for the referendum. Wednesday afternoon the bill’s cosponsor, Representative Robert Benvenuti (R-Lexington), testified with Marsy’s Law advocates. Benvenuti told the Interim Joint Committee on State Government, “It’s time to stop turning our backs on crime victims.” Kentucky currently has only modest statutory rights for crime victims. “Without constitutional protection crime victims are forced to navigate a criminal justice system that is greatly unbalanced against them,” testified Benvenuti.  He told lawmakers it’s time to give crime victim’s a voice.

     Ashlea Christiansen, the director for Marsy’s Law for Kentucky, told lawmakers crime victims are bystanders in the court process. “Marsy’s Law is needed because when the accused is arrested and charged the crime is considered to have been committed against the state and victims become merely witnesses to their own crime,” testified Christiansen. She said the court process can many times leave victims feeling as if they’ve been victimized again. She told lawmakers protecting crime victims’ rights does not mean impeding the rights of the accused or the judicial process.

     Marsy’s Law Kentucky would give crime victims various constitutional rights. Those include the right to receive timely notice of public proceedings, the right to be heard in public proceedings in matters involving the victim, the right to be present at court proceedings that are free from unreasonable delays, protection from the accused and people advocating for the accused, the right to full and timely restitution and the right to fairness and due consideration for the protection, dignity and privacy of the victim. The law would also require victims be informed of their rights and would allow them to go before the courts to enforce those rights. “At it’s very core, Marsy’s Law is about creating a smarter, more compassionate criminal justice system,” testified Christiansen.

     Christiansen said 280,000 people become victims of crimes in Kentucky every year. Several organizations and lawmakers have voiced support for Marsy’s Law, including the Kentucky League of Cities. The KLC Board of Directors voted to support Marsy’s Law at its June meeting. Organizers say 27,000 Kentuckians have also shown support for the bill on the Marsy’s Law website. Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) told supporters and fellow lawmakers he plans to cosponsor the bill in the upcoming session. While several potential constitutional ballot issues may be up for consideration next year, Thayer wants to make clear his priority. “If we only do one, it’s my opinion it should be Marsy’s Law,” he told the Committee. Representative John Carney (R-Campbellsville) also voiced support for making it the top focus for a possible ballot referendum.

     Organizers confirmed some details of the proposed amendment are still being drafted, such as who would be considered a victim and what type of crime would be included.