Marsy’s Law, a measure that would have amended the state constitution to provide additional rights for crime victims, was ruled as invalid Thursday by the Kentucky Supreme Court due to the manner in which the proposed amendment was presented on voters’ November 2018 ballots.
The court said that the description provided on the ballot did not provide enough context for voters to make a thoughtful decision concerning the issue. Opponents of the amendment argued that the language used on the ballot was too vague and written in a way that was misleading.
The Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers filed a lawsuit in August 2018 in an effort to keep the measure off of the ballot for that very reason. That was ultimately the opinion of Franklin Circuit Judge Henry Wingate as well, who ruled just weeks before voters were to decide on the proposed amendment that the question on the ballot was not written in a way that adequately informs voters as to the substance of what Marsy’s Law entails.
However, Judge Wingate’s ruling came after the ballots had already been printed and voters were still given the opportunity to decide on the measure. Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, who spearheaded the measure, filed an appeal of the decision soon after, sending the issue on to the Supreme Court.
But a similar sentiment to that of Judge Wingate was echoed Thursday by Chief Justice John Minton Jr., who wrote about the ruling on behalf of the court.
“Our constitution is too important and valuable to be amended without the full amendment ever being put to the public,” wrote Chief Justice Minton, as reported by the Courier Journal.
The intention of Marsy’s Law, according to its proponents, was to amend the state’s constitution by adding a new section to include the rights of victims. Those rights, in addition to being equal with those of the accused, would have provided victims with the right to: be notified of all court proceedings, attend all proceedings, be heard at hearings for release, plea or sentencing, be notified of release or escape of the accused, reasonable protection from the accused and to fairness and due consideration.
But when placed on the ballot, the core details of the measure were stripped away, being presented only to voters in a one-sentence question reading: “Are you in favor of providing constitutional rights to victims of crime, including the right to be treated fairly, with dignity and respect, and the right to be informed and to have a voice in the judicial process?”
The official Marsy’s Law for Kentucky Facebook page posted a statement following the decision by the Supreme Court, which expressed the group’s disappointment with the outcome.
“Despite the clear will of the Kentucky General Assembly and more than 800,000 voters—an overwhelming majority—the state Supreme Court chose to deny crime victims the equal rights they so obviously deserve. Instead of siding with often-voiceless victims, their tireless advocates and dedicated members of law enforcement across the commonwealth, the court chose to heed the eleventh-hour desires of a small group of criminal defense lawyers,” the statement reads.
Proponents of the measure plan to regroup and again present it to the Kentucky General Assembly in an attempt to get Marsy’s Law back on the ballot in 2020, according to the statement.