On November 6, 2018, voters in Kentucky will have the chance, along with several other states, to ratify Marsy’s Law. This bill has already passed both the KY House and Senate. A television ad campaign is currently underway to bolster public support of this initiative.
The primary issues behind the push center around victims and their families being given the right to be included (and to have input) in the sentencing, parole and release of the person who committed the crime against them. The law would apply to cases involving juvenile offenders as well as adult offenders. It’s positioned and described as a victims’ rights law.
On the surface, this bill seems quite simple and even logical. After all, we already have the VINE system in Jefferson County (Victim Identification and Notification Everyday). This is our current system used to notify victims of release dates or escapes by inmates who have been convicted of crimes against that person.
What seems to be different about Marsy’s Law is that it would actual make the victim(s) party(ies) to the court process. This would enable them to inject input into decisions related to bail decisions, release conditions and the right to be heard in court proceedings.
Again, this new law would cover juvenile offenders, so there’s an open question as to the privacy afforded to juveniles in the court system. If additional information is released to victims and the general public, does that violate the rights of the incarcerated juvenile or individual? If not now, could it sometime in the future?
Marsy’s Law would give victims the right to hire private attorneys who would then be involved in the case. Normally, it’s the Commonwealth that handles the prosecution. This well-meaning law could actually complicate and unduly slow an already overburdened court system.
Interestingly, Kentucky already has a series of victims’ rights measures on the books. This new law, which is actually a Kentucky Constitutional amendment, would add to the existing measures.
Another issue has been raised surrounding the available funding for expanded notifications and other internal systems and personnel. It appears the budget concerns may not have been fully explored or resolved and the cost alone could be crippling.
No doubt, victims’ rights are important. However, we are all entitled to fair and equal justice under the law. While well intentioned, there are always unconsidered ripple effects and unforeseen consequences when lawmakers attempt to act on emotion, rather than rely on logic, process and reason.
At this point, the issue will be voted on by Kentuckians tomorrow. While it certainly feels good to vote yes, if you, your spouse, son or daughter is being charged, I’m fairly sure those rights would also be important to you. Maybe this version of the law simply isn’t ready to go, yet.