Advocates for crime victims' rights amendment hope to pass bill in next year's session

10/25/2016 07:56 PM

FRANKFORT — Advocates for a proposed constitutional amendment that would guarantee rights for crime victims told lawmakers Tuesday that they will try a second time to pass the bill after it fell short in this year’s legislative session.

The bill, named Marsy’s Law after Marsalee Nicholas, would give victims of violent crime standing in court, affording them a greater presence in the judicial process and requiring them to be updated of major developments like as a suspect’s release.

Nicholas was killed by an ex-boyfriend in California in 1983. Her parents later encountered him at a grocery store, unaware that he had made bail.

Ashlea Christiansen, state director of Marsy’s Law for Kentucky, told the Task Force on Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs today that the man repeatedly antagonized the family while free.

She said passing Marsy’s Law would put the question on the ballot in 2018, giving voters an opportunity to protect other families from similar ordeals.

“Thirty-two states now have some form of constitutional protections for victims,” Christiansen said. “Kentucky is not yet one of them.”

Eileen Recktenwald, executive director of the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs, said the constitutional amendment is at the top of her group’s legislative wish list for next year’s session. It was their top issue this year.

This year’s version of Marsy’s Law, Senate Bill 175, cleared the Senate on a 34-1 vote but didn’t reach the House floor. Recktenwald said lawmakers ran out of time to pass the legislation.

She hopes the constitutional amendment will pass after a second attempt next year.

“Under Marsy’s Law, sexual assault victims would have the constitutional right to notice of and to be heard at and present during certain court proceedings,” Recktenwald said.

“… But most importantly, Marsy’s Law would ensure victims had standing in the courtroom. That is the ability to enforce those rights. While Kentucky currently has many of these rights already outlined in statute, they are often unenforceable because they are outweighed by the constitutional protections afforded to the accused and convicted.”

Lawmakers on the task force also heard from a woman identified only as Lisa, who shared her frustrations with the legal system after her ex-husband pleaded guilty to lesser charges after he drugged and raped her.

She did not give her last name and did not want her testimony filmed.

Correction: A previous version of this report indicated that the amendment would be on the ballot in 2020 if passed.

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