Marsy’s Law was on the ballot in six states this election cycle: Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Nevada, North Carolina, and Oklahoma. It passed in all six. This law purports to protect the rights of victims; however, it simultaneously erodes rights of the accused and presents challenges to all parts of the criminal justice system.
These ballot measures were backed almost exclusively by Henry Nicholas III, billionaire and co-founder of Broadcom. According to Forbes, Nicholas spent around $72 million in those states to ensure the passage of Marsy’s Law. That amount does not include what he has spent in previous elections in states such as California and Illinois.
One key feature of Marsy’s Law is that it gives victims the right to notification and participation in criminal justice proceedings. Nicholas has good reason for wanting Marsy’s Law to be written into state constitutions across the country. In 1983, his sister Marsy was killed by a jealous ex-boyfriend. Nicholas and his mother were unaware that the ex-boyfriend had been released on bail and they were confronted by him in the grocery store.
This story, as difficult and saddening as it is, shows us how important it is to protect victims and their families. According to the ACLU, 35 states already have victims’ rights in their constitutions, many of them avoiding the problems presented by Marsy’s Law.
Marsy’s Law is problematic because it pits the rights of the accused against the rights of the victim. Victims, according to the law, have the right to refuse depositions and discovery requests—which means denying the accused access to potentially exculpatory evidence, undermining due process. Furthermore, according to The Marshall Project, South Dakota experienced troubles with the new law when they were forced to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to find the victims of low level misdemeanors. Defendants spent additional days in jail because of prosecutors’ inabilities to find the victims of vandalism and other crimes prior to their arraignment.
In many cases, victim’s rights groups fear for the implications of the law as it may damage the right to privacy for victims of sexual or domestic abuse. Funds could be better spent protecting victims, rather than forcing officials to comply with a process that does not make sense in a lot of cases.
Sophie Quinton, writer for Stateline, also noted that police officers in North Dakota have invoked Marsy’s Law rights to keep their names from being publicly released after incidents which involved the shooting of civilians.
Why does this matter for us? Many students are from states in which Marsy’s Law is already in effect, and this poorly written law seems to conflict with our Jesuit mission to protect the marginalized. Nicholas has stated that his ultimate goal is to change the U.S. Constitution—making his momentum this election cycle a concern for more than just those individual states.
As Jeanne Hruska, policy director at the ACLU of New Hampshire writes, “To oppose Marsy’s Law is not to oppose victims’ rights. Rather, it is to oppose the highly problematic formula that is Marsy’s Law.”
One billionaire should not have the power to rewrite the law across the country in a one-size-fits-all manner. Victims of sexual assault should have a say in how victims of sexual assault are treated; not a man who has faced serious assault accusations from two former partners. Victims of crime ought to have rights, but those rights should not infringe on the rights of the accused guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, nor should they be implemented in a way which has unintended consequences, harming rather than protecting victims.
Kurt Wohlers is a senior studying Philosophy and Communications.