Editorial: Is Marsy’s Law necessary?
Victims should not be forgotten in the criminal justice process.
It is easy to reduce the court system to criminal and prosecutor — crime and punishment.
Marsy’s Law is being proposed as an amendment to Pennsylvania’s constitution. It is a crime victims’ rights amendment that legislators and advocates say provides enforcement of rights that have been previously spelled out for victims.
“This provides a mechanism for victims to motion the court to ensure their rights are enforced,” said Pennsylvania Victim Advocate Jennifer Storm.
Victims should have a voice in the process. They need to be heard, they need to be consulted and they need to be remembered as the wheels of justice continue to turn. They should be heard at sentencing, and they should be heard at parole and probation hearings. They should know when someone is being released. They need information and attention.
But the law cannot forget that until there is a conviction, the defendant is accused of a crime. There may not yet be proof that a crime has been committed at all, much less who committed it.
Marsy’s Law is named after the sister of Henry J. Nicholas III, a California billionaire. Marsy was stalked and murdered. Nicholas has committed himself to making sure that victims like his sister have the voice she didn’t have, and that is a noble and admirable goal.
It cannot, however, be allowed to take precedence over the criminal justice process.
Duquesne University law professor and Pennsylvania constitutional law scholar Bruce Ledewitz said much of Marsy’s Law is already being done in the state and could have less positive impact than believed.
“I would have rather seen the Legislature come up with money for victim services rather than the hubbub of passing a meaningless constitutional amendment,” he said.
Pennsylvania has a Crime Victims Act that has been on the books for more than 20 years. It could definitely use some updates and maybe do with the addition of some teeth to enforce its growl.
But changing that act seems both easier and more effective than amending the constitution.