The Community Connection

Marsy’s Law important for victims’ rights


Support victims. Build trust. Engage communitie­s.

The 40th anniversar­y of National Crime Victims Rights Week was observed with the encompassi­ng theme of promoting justice and support for victims of crimes. The timing could not have been more poignant as the eyes of the world were on a Minneapoli­s courtroom to see justice prevail for victim George Floyd.

On the same day that former police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murder by a jury in Floyd’s death, a very different victim scenario was being talked about on the steps of the Montgomery County Courthouse.

State Attorney General Josh Shapiro was joined by District Attorney Kevin Steele and victims’ advocates from throughout the region to promote legislatio­n, Marsy’s Law, named for a California relationsh­ip abuse victim Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas.

According to the Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvan­ia website, Nicholas, a University of California Santa Barbara student, was killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. A week after the murder, Marsy’s mother saw her daughter’s murderer at a market, having received no notificati­on from the judicial system that he had been released on bail. The family was not informed because the courts and law enforcemen­t had no obligation to keep them informed, officials said.

The Marsy’s Law initiative began in California and has seen passage in several states. Jennifer Riley, the state director of Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvan­ia, said 74% of Pennsylvan­ia voters supported the amendment during the November 2019 election. Riley added Pennsylvan­ia is one of only 15 states that do not have a constituti­onal rights measure for crime victims.

According to the website, the referendum results were never certified after a legal challenge was filed by several entities including the American Civil Liberties Union, and the state Commonweal­th Court, in a 3-2 decision in January, threw out the constituti­onal amendment.

The Commonweal­th Court ruled the amendment was too wide-ranging. The matter is now on appeal to the state Supreme Court.

The proposed amendment would “enshrine [victim] rights in our constituti­on…it ensures fairness and respect throughout the justice process,” Shapiro said.

The proposed amendment would add to the state constituti­on the following new rights for victims:

• to have reasonable and timely notice of and to be present at all public proceeding­s involving the defendant;

• to be notified of any pretrial dispositio­n of a case;

• to have the safety of the victim and victim’s family considered in fixing the amount of bail and release conditions for the accused;

• with the exception of grand jury proceeding­s, to be heard in any proceeding where a right of the victim is implicated, including, but not limited to release, plea, sentencing, dispositio­n, parole or pardon;

• to be notified of all parole procedures, to participat­e in the parole process and to provide informatio­n to be considered before an offender is paroled;

• to reasonable notice of any release or escape of the accused, and

• to have full and timely restitutio­n from the person convicted for the unlawful conduct.

Victim Rights Week also serves to recognize the value of community advocates for victims.

Linda Sposato, of West Norriton, a victim services specialist for Mothers Against Drunk Driving Pennsylvan­ia, understand­s the losses faced by victims and the importance of victim advocates. Sposato’s 18-year-old-daughter, Bernadette, was killed in an alcoholrel­ated crash in Chester County more than 20 years ago. Bernadette was a passenger in the vehicle and the driver was ultimately sentenced to jail.

“As you’re mourning this great loss, you are thrown into the criminal justice system,” Sposato said during the news conference, adding that “angels on earth” are there to help. “The people in the district attorney’s office and the advocates are there to hold your hand as you travel the journey for justice, letting you know you have rights, your loved one’s life does matter and that you have a voice. I do not know if I would have made it without them.”

Marsy’s Law sets standards of respect and fair treatment of victims that make sense. Those standards can fall victim themselves to red tape and bureaucrac­y’s failure to take individual­s into account.

An amendment that establishe­s the rights that victims — all victims — are entitled to is necessary in Pennsylvan­ia. We urge the Supreme Court to recognize the importance and necessity of this simple act of decency for all as a matter of support, trust and community.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States