Editorial: Marsy’s Law too vague and too costly

Question 1 on the November ballot — dubbed Marsy’s Law — would amend the Nevada Constitution by removing existing provisions requiring lawmakers to provide statutory rights for crime victims and replacing that with a so-called “Victims’ Bill of Rights.”

The first problem with this is that the U.S. Constitution says that no one shall be “deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.” In other words, one is presumed innocent until proven guilty. So how can there be a “victim” until due process has been applied?

Marsy’s Law is being pushed nationwide by the wealthy family of Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas, who was killed in 1983 by her ex-boyfriend. Family members were miffed when they walked into a grocery store and saw the ex-boyfriend, who had been released on bail without their knowledge. Whether bail would have been granted even if they were informed of the hearing is a matter of base conjecture.

The list of 16 rights that would be granted by passage of Question 1 are vague and subject to misinterpretation. They also restrict the constitutional right to confront one’s accusers.

These “rights” include the right to privacy and dignity and freedom from intimidation, harassment and abuse; the right to refuse an interview or deposition request, unless under court order, and to set reasonable conditions on the conduct of any such interview; the right to reasonable notice of all public proceedings; the right to be informed, upon request, of the conviction, sentence, place and time of incarceration, or other disposition of the defendant, the scheduled release date of the defendant and the release of or the escape by the defendant from custody; and the right to be reasonably heard at any public proceeding in any court involving release or sentencing. And many others.

The argument against passage of Question 1 plainly states: “Question 1 is a solution in search of a problem that does not exist. There is no reason to enact this complex, costly and confusing proposal because the Nevada Constitution and state law already guarantee comprehensive victims’ rights. Question 1 removes Nevada’s current constitutional and statutory framework that gives the Legislature the flexibility needed to balance victims’ rights with the efficient and effective functioning of the justice system. Instead, Question 1 imposes an inflexible framework, and any unintended consequences cannot be fixed unless the Nevada Constitution is amended yet again — an uncertain process that typically takes more than three years.”

The fiscal note for Question 1 points out that the amendment would require all money and property collected from a person ordered to pay restitution to first be applied to all victims until they are paid in full, thus depriving the state and local jurisdictions of any assessments, fees, fines, forfeitures and other charges. There is no way to determine what this would cost taxpayers.

Because Marsy’s Law defines a “victim” as any person directly and proximately harmed by the commission of a criminal offense, it is difficult to put a limit on how many people would have to be notified of every hearing and procedure. The cost is incalculable.

The argument against also notes: “Question 1 also includes other vague language that opens the door to lengthy delays, added expense and inconsistent application of the law. Thus, instead of helping victims, Question 1 will make it more difficult for victims to receive justice.”

The proposal also raises serious questions about how it might impact the public’s right to see whether justice is done in our courts. Could Question 1 prevent the release of names of crime victims and crime reports? It does require respect for the victim’s privacy after all.

The current constitutional provisions for victims’right is sufficient and works. We recommend a no vote on Question 1.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.