One of the greatest elements of a democracy is the right of citizens to vote on the laws themselves, as opposed to a republic where representatives do the lawmaking. In the Fall of 2018, voters in several states will get the chance to decide where victims should also have constitutional rights as much as the accused, in a Constitutional Amendment known as Marsy’s Law. More than two-thirds of both houses of the Georgia General Assembly supported putting it on the ballot for the Georgia voters to decide.
According to Ballotpedia, Georgians, Nevadans, Oklahomans, and Kentuckians will vote this November on a bill that would give victims of crime more rights. Constitutional Amendment 4 reads “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to provide certain rights against whom as crime has allegedly been perpetrated and allow victims to assert such rights?”
If it passes, Paragraph XXX would be added to the Georgia Constitution. These rights include victims being notified of court proceedings, right to notice of the accused’s arrest, release or escape, the right to be included in court proceedings, the right to be heard in court including such proceedings such as a release, plea or sentencing, as well as being informed of such rights. This does not mean the victim can appeal a criminal court decision, challenge a verdict or sentence, or any participation as a party to the dispute other than filing a motion.
Supporters of Marsy’s law include Henry Nicholas, who donated more than $300,000 to pass the law. It was his sister, Marsy, who was killed in California in 1983. The top suspect, her boyfriend, was arrested then released, only to threaten Henry and his family in a store a few days later. Actor Kelsey Grammer has recorded commercials in support of Marsy’s Law.
According to WDRB in Louisville, Kentucky (another state voting on the bill), Marsy’s Law allows victim safety to be considered at bail hearings.
“No rapist should have more rights than the victim,” wrote Marsy’s Law supporters from Georgia in USA Today. “No murderer should be afforded more rights than the victim’s family…Increasing the rights of victims will not at all diminish the rights of the accused.” With such protections, victims like Dr. Christine Blasey Ford might have been more willing to come forward and confront their attacker if a Marsy’s Law had been in place years ago.
Democratic State Representative Bob Trammell of Georgia also supports the bill. “In our criminal justice system today, the accused and convicted receive constitutional rights, but the people harmed by crime do not.” He noted that Georgia is one of only 14 states without constitutional rights for crime victims.
But not all back the bill. “Much of what Marsy’s law is designed to do is weaken the rights of the individual accused,” said the Executive Director of the Institute of Compassion in Justice, according to WDRB. And that’s something Judge Kavanaugh’s supporters are likely to bring up. The Georgia Public Policy Foundation noted that the law would increase costs given the need of victims to have attorneys and support staff, lead to some false accusations by purported victims, and the loss of the presumption of innocence by the accused, as noted by Ballotpedia. The ACLU pointed out that much of Marsy’s Law is already part of Georgia law and that the real focus should be on mass incarceration and long jail sentences.
Whatever your position, it’s important to recognize your rights to have a voice on the bill. Elections aren’t just about electing the lawmakers. On November 6, 2018, it’s your turn to be the lawmaker, exercising your constitutional rights to do so for state law.