Editorial: Efforts to repeal Marsy’s Law need to begin now

You can’t say we didn’t warn you.

We asked in an editorial published shortly before the November election whether the constitutional amendment on the ballot in Nevada and other states — known as Marsy’s Law and sold as a victim rights measure — could prevent the release of names of crime victims and crime reports that keep the public aware of public safety issues and how well justice is being delivered by our elected and appointed police, prosecutors and judges. 

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 conjecture.

The Associated Press is now reporting that the police chief in Sebring, Fla., is refusing to release the names of some of the five women shot to death in a local bank. The chief noted that the Marsy’s Law amendment to the state constitution approved by voters in November allows relatives of crime victims to prevent the disclosure of information that could be used to locate or harass them or their families. 

The AP account quotes Barbara Petersen of the Tallahassee-based First Amendment Foundation as asking the logical question, “How do we hold law enforcement accountable? Are we going to start having secret trials, crime victims testifying behind curtains?”

Then there is the absurdity of the perpetrator being a “victim” by virtue of being a protected family member. It’s happened twice in Florida already. 

In Tallahassee, police refused to release the name of a person killed in an apparent DUI-related crash or the name of the driver because they reportedly were related.

In Pembroke Pines police refused to release the names of either a woman shot to death by her husband or the name of the husband who then committed suicide in front of police officers.

Furthermore, there have been cases in both South and North Dakota in which the names of police officers involved in shootings were concealed from the public because they qualified as victims under Marsy’s Law and revealing their identities could be used to locate or harass them or their families. Such blanket secrecy could allow public officials to cover up mistakes, malfeasance or even corruption.

Could a corporation demand that its identity be kept secret after being the victim of theft or embezzlement due to lax precautions? This could leave customers and shareholders unaware.

Could a crime spree in a neighborhood go unreported because Marsy’s Law conceals the identity of victims and their proximate locations?

The ACLU of Nevada opposed Marsy’s Law, saying that granting victims constitutional rights equal to the accused undermines the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments, which are meant to limit the power of government. It “undermines the presumption of innocence by allowing victims to be involved in procedural processes prior to conviction,” the ACLU argued.

The “rights” created under Nevada’s version of Marsy’s Law include 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. This directly interferes with the accused-but-not-yet-convicted person’s Sixth Amendment Right to effective assistance of an attorney.

Marsy’s Law also requires “victims” to be notified of any hearing or procedure. Because it 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. The cost is incalculable. This could open the door to lengthy delays and added expense, harming the victims instead of helping.

Not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done. Marsy’s Law can block the public’s access to information needed to make sure public officials are actually carrying out their duties responsibly and effectively.

It will take three years to undo the threats to justice posed by Marsy’s Law because it is in the state Constitution. We call on our lawmakers to get the ball rolling.

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.

 

Marsy’s Law already being used to hide public information

That didn’t take long.

We asked in an editorial published shortly before the November election whether the constitutional amendment on the ballot in Nevada and other states — known as Marsy’s Law and sold as a victim rights measure — could prevent the release of names of crime victims and crime reports. “It does require respect for the victim’s privacy after all,” we noted.

The Associated Press is reporting that the police chief in Sebring, Fla., is refusing to release the names of some of the five women killed in

a bank recently. The chief noted that the “Marsy’s Law” amendment to the state constitution approved by voters in November allows crime victims to prevent the disclosure of information that could be used to locate or harass them or their families.

The AP account quotes Barbara Petersen of the Tallahassee-based First Amendment Foundation as asking the logical question, “How do we hold law enforcement accountable? Are we going to start having secret trials, crime victims testifying behind curtains?”

The ACLU of Nevada opposed Marsy’s Law for this very reason, saying that granting victims constitutional rights equal to the accused undermines the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments, which are meant to limit the power of government. It “undermines the presumption of innocence by allowing victims to be involved in procedural processes prior to conviction,” the ACLU argued.

The “rights” created under Nevada’s version of Marsy’s Law include 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. This directly interferes with the accused-but-not-yet-convicted person’s Sixth Amendment Right to effective assistance of an attorney.

Not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done. Marsy’s Law can block the public’s access to information needed to make sure public officials are actually carrying out their duties responsibly and effectively.

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.