Westerfield files constitutional amendment to protect victims' rights

02/08/2016 09:56 PM

Senate Judiciary Chair Whitney Westerfield is making a push to amend Kentucky’s Constitution to afford victims of crimes the same rights afforded to the accused.

Westerfield’s legislation is named “Marsy’s Law” and is part of a national effort to codify victims’ rights in the state constitution.

If passed and ratified by the people of Kentucky, Marsy’s Law would grants a “Victim’s Bill of Rights” guaranteeing victims’ constitutional rights to receive notification of proceedings and developments in the criminal case and to receive timely notification of changes to the offender’s custodial status.

The legislation would also grant victims the right to be present at court proceedings and to provide input to the prosecutor before a plea agreement is finalized, to be heard at plea or sentencing proceedings, or any process that may result in the offender’s release.
And, the right to full and timely restitution, according to a press release.

In an interview with Pure Politics, Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, said the legislation essentially codifies and protects the rights of victims under the law.

The legislation is part of a larger movement known as – Marsy’s Law for All – which began as a result of the death of “Marsy” Nicholas in 1983.

Marsy was a college student at the University of California Santa Barbara who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. After Marsy’s funeral, her family was confronted by her murderer — they were unaware he had been released on bail, according to the group’s website.

“Last year, over 9,000 violent crimes were committed against victims in Kentucky, and many of those victims faced further injustice as they navigated a criminal justice system that doesn’t offer them equal constitutional rights,” said Kristena Morse, State Director for Marsy’s Law for Kentucky in a press release. “Today we are working to correct that injustice and encourage other lawmakers to follow Senator Westerfield’s lead.”

“Passing a Marsy’s Law in Kentucky would mean that the thousands of Kentuckians, including men, women and children, in our state who are victims of crime each year don’t continue to suffer at the hands of a biased criminal justice system,” Morse continued. “Ensuring equal rights for crime victims is common sense, and something that advocates across the state have been working toward for quite some time.”

If the bill clears its first hurdle in a Senate committee it would head to the full Senate, where 23 of the 38 senators must approve it because it’s a constitutional amendment. If it continues on to the House the legislation would take 60 votes to fully clear the constitutional hurdle, then it would head to the ballot this fall for state voters’ approval.

About Nick Storm

Nick Storm is the Anchor and Managing Editor of Pure Politics, the only nightly program dedicated to Kentucky politics. Nick covers all of the political heavyweights and his investigative work brings to light issues that might otherwise go unnoticed, like the connection between the high profile Steubenville, Ohio rape and a Kentucky hacker whose push for further investigation could put him in federal prison. Nick is also working on a feature length bio documentary Outlaw Poet: A documentary on Ron Whitehead. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickStorm_cn2. Nick can be reached at 502-792-1107 or nicholas.storm@charter.com.

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