State Supreme Court to look at Marsy’s Law

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Marsy’s Law will soon make its way to the Kentucky Supreme Court.

The law, which seeks to lay out constitutional rights for victims of crimes, has been spearheaded by Christian County state Sen. Whitney Westerfield.

Westerfield said he hopes the ruling will eventually go in the favor of his camp, although he is not sure what will happen.

“I feel our legal argument is very strong,” he said. “I believe the case law backs us up and supports our position.”

A provision to include Marsy’s Law in the state’s constitution was approved by the legislature last year. Since it would change the wording of the constitution, it had to be added to the ballot last November during the general election.

In August, the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers filed legal action to stop the effort, claiming it was misleading and would permanently skew the justice system.

“Though it is not perfect, the existing criminal justice system produces fair results for the Commonwealth, for victims of crime and for persons accused of crime,” the KACDL said in a statement.

The KACDL argued Kentucky has a robust bill of rights for victims. It claimed the bill, which consists of 40 lines of text and more than 550 words, creates 12 new constitutional rights for some, but not all victims of criminal conduct.

According to the KACDL’s opinion, the measure on the November ballot was too simple for the robust law. The wording on the ballot asked: “Are you in favor of providing constitutional rights to the victims of crime, including the right to be treated fairly, with dignity and respect, and the right to be informed and have a voice in the judicial process?”

Three weeks before the general election, Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate ruled the wording on the ballot was too vague.

Westerfield said his uneasiness with the supreme court’s eventual ruling comes from the circuit court ruling. He believed then, as he does now, that the legal argument was strong although Wingate disagreed.

Since it was too late for the wording to be removed from the ballot, voters were able to vote, but the vote count was not verified.

The measure unofficially passed by an overwhelming about. About 63 percent of the votes were in favor of the law.

In August, Westerfield told the Kentucky New Era he disagreed with KACDL’s opinion that the ballot measure was too vague.

“The amendment is the opposite of vague,” he said back in August. “Very simply, we are creating constitutional rights for crime victims — a list of enumerated rights that currently do not exist for crime victims. We have some statutory rights, but they’re not very strong and they only apply to victims of about a dozen different crimes.”

Now, the fight moves to the state’s highest court. Friday, the supreme court will begin hearing oral arguments on whether the law should be enacted.

Westerfield said if his camp wins in the Supreme Court, the votes from Nov. 6 should be certified by the state board of elections. If the law is rejected, Marsy’s Law advocates will have to start the process all over, which leads to its own problem.

The state Supreme Court will not make a final ruling on the bill until the end of its session this year, which means Marsy’s Law advocates will have to wait until the 2020 legislative session to begin the process again.

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Written by Jon Russelburg. Cross-posted from the
Kentucky New Era via the Kentucky Press News Service.