The ACLU goes hunt­ing in Mon­tana

Hop­ing to bag a pop­u­lar vic­tims’ rights law, the ACLU shows its bias

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Robert Knight Robert Knight is a se­nior fel­low at the Amer­i­can Civil Rights Union.

In a 1981 speech be­fore the Cal­i­for­nia Peace Of­fi­cers Assn., for­mer At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ed Meese re­ferred to the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union (ACLU) as a “crim­i­nals’ lobby.” Lately, the Amer­i­can Crim­i­nal Lib­er­ties Union has been work­ing harder than ever to jus­tify its pe­jo­ra­tive nick­name. This week, the ACLU filed a law­suit against a pop­u­lar new crime vic­tims’ rights mea­sure in Mon­tana known as Marsy’s Law.

The pro­vi­sion, which takes ef­fect on July 1, was ap­proved on Nov. 8, 2016 by two-thirds (66 per­cent) of Mon­tana vot­ers. It strength­ens ex­ist­ing vic­tim le­gal pro­tec­tions and adds a 19-item “vic­tims’ bill of rights” sec­tion to the state con­sti­tu­tion, in­clud­ing:

“The right to par­tic­i­pate in crim­i­nal and ju­ve­nile jus­tice pro­ceed­ings, to be no­ti­fied of ma­jor de­vel­op­ments in the crim­i­nal case, to be no­ti­fied of changes to the of­fender’s cus­to­dial sta­tus, to be present at court pro­ceed­ings and pro­vide in­put to the pros­e­cu­tor be­fore a plea agree­ment is fi­nal­ized, and to be heard at plea or sen­tenc­ing pro­ceed­ings, or any process that may re­sult in the of­fender’s re­lease.”

It also “guar­an­tees crime vic­tims’ rights to resti­tu­tion, pri­vacy, to con­fer with the pros­e­cut­ing at­tor­ney, and to be in­formed of their rights.”

The ACLU says the new sec­tion is un­con­sti­tu­tional be­cause it in­volves more than one is­sue, will ham­string de­fense at­tor­neys, cost too much to en­force, have un­fore­seen con­se­quences, and gen­er­ally be a spike stuck into the wheel of jus­tice.

Sup­port­ers (a land­slide ma­jor­ity of Mon­tanans) say crim­i­nal law has swung too far to­ward fa­vor­ing crim­i­nal de­fen­dants and that more pro­tec­tions for vic­tims and their fam­i­lies are long over­due.

Mon­tana is one of sev­eral states in which vot­ers have adopted a ver­sion of Marsy’s Law, which orig­i­nated in Cal­i­for­nia.

On Nov. 30, 1983, Marsalee “Marsy” Ni­cholas, a stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Santa Bar­bara, was stalked and mur­dered by her ex-boyfriend. A week af­ter she was mur­dered, Marsy’s mother and brother, Henry T. Ni­cholas, went to visit her grave and then walked into a gro­cery store, where, shock­ingly, they ran into the murderer.

“Be­cause the courts and law en­force­ment were un­der no obli­ga­tion to keep them in­formed, the fam­ily had no idea that he had been re­leased on bail or that he would re­main free un­til his con­vic­tion,” the Marsy’s Law for All web­site re­lates. “Af­ter the murderer was con­victed and was serv­ing his sen­tence, Dr. Ni­cholas and his mother were re­quired to at­tend nu­mer­ous pa­role hear­ings in or­der to keep Marsy’s murderer in jail. This trau­matic ‘re­liv­ing’ of the mur­der at pa­role hear­ings caused Dr. Ni­cholas’ mother to have a heart at­tack.”

De­ter­mined to pro­tect other vic­tims’ fam­i­lies from such or­deals, Henry Ni­cholas, co-founder of the For­tune 500 semi­con­duc­tor com­pany Broad­com (now Broad­com Lim­ited), or­ga­nized a vic­tims’ rights group, Marsy’s Law: Jus­tice for Crime Vic­tims, which suc­cess­fully lob­bied for a state con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment.

Op­posed by The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and 26 other Cal­i­for­nia ed­i­to­rial boards (with the no­table ex­cep­tion of the Eu­reka Re­porter), Propo­si­tion 9, “The Vic­tims’ Rights and Pro­tec­tions Act” passed 54 per­cent to 46 per­cent in Novem­ber 2008.

Mr. Ni­cholas, who bankrolled the $2.4-mil­lion Mon­tana cam­paign, also pro­moted the law in other states, such as Illi­nois, where it passed with 78 per­cent ap­proval in 2014, and in North Dakota with 62 per­cent and South Dakota with 60 per­cent in 2016.

In a press re­lease, Caitlin Borgmann, ACLU of Mon­tana ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor, said, “The ACLU fully sup­ports the rig­or­ous en­force­ment of ex­ist­ing le­gal pro­tec­tions for vic­tims, but CI-116’s expansive re­def­i­ni­tion of ‘vic­tim’ gives new rights to fam­ily, friends, cor­po­ra­tions and other non­hu­man en­ti­ties at the ex­pense of con­sti­tu­tion­ally en­shrined rights.”

One of the pe­ti­tion­ers in the suit, Adrian Miller, de­scribed in the ACLU re­lease as a vic­tims’ rights ad­vo­cate, played the hard-case card:

“Some­times a vic­tim wants pri­vacy from her fam­ily, for ex­am­ple when a rape vic­tim is de­cid­ing whether to ob­tain an abor­tion, or when fam­ily mem­bers pres­sure an abused spouse to drop charges and re­turn home.”

How­ever, this is not an is­sue of pri­vacy. It is about pro­tect­ing the rights of vic­tims and their fam­i­lies to par­tic­i­pate in the ju­di­cial process. The ACLU has al­ways ad­vo­cated for the rights of crim­i­nals over their vic­tims and Marsy’s Law will help level that play­ing field.

Chuck Denowh, state direc­tor of the Marsy’s Law cam­paign, told the Great Falls Tri­bune that he was con­fi­dent the law would with­stand le­gal chal­lenges.

With re­gard to the ACLU law­suit, he said, “It’s pretty sim­ple. Some peo­ple fun­da­men­tally don’t think that crime vic­tims should have con­sti­tu­tional rights like of­fend­ers do.”

Dr. Ni­cholas and his mother were re­quired to at­tend nu­mer­ous pa­role hear­ings in or­der to keep Marsy’s murderer in jail.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.