A Franklin Circuit judge has granted supporters of “Marsy’s Law” the right to intervene in a lawsuit that aims to prevent a vote on the crime victims’ rights law during the coming November election.
On Monday, Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate approved a motion filed by Sen. Whitney Westerfield, a Hopkinsville Republican, and Marsy’s Law for Kentucky to intervene in the lawsuit, which was filed against the Secretary of State’s Office by the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
“Marsy’s Law,” which was passed as Senate Bill 3 in this year’s legislative session, would enshrine the rights of crime victims in the state constitution. Included in the law is the right of victims to be notified of hearings, the right to be heard in hearings and the right of victims to be notified if a defendant in their case escapes or is released on bond.
Because the law requires a constitutional amendment, it must be voted on by the public. The ballot language reads: “Are you in favor of providing constitutional rights to the victims of crime, including the right to be treated fairly, with dignity and respect, and the right to be informed and have a voice in the judicial process?”
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The Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers filed suit, claiming the ballot question is vague and doesn’t fully explain how the law would affect the criminal justice system and other parts of the constitution.
For example, the complaint says the amendment will create a determination that a crime has been committed and will force courts to determine a person had been harmed before the court had determined the defendant is guilty.
Also, the complaint says the rights listed in “Marsy’s Law” will only apply to people the legislature defines as “victims of crime” and create “an entirely new right of privacy” exclusively for those that legislators determined are crime victims. The ballot languages also does not tell voters the bill, as written, provides no way for a person to enforce their rights.
The lawsuit, which was filed earlier this month, asks the language not appear on the ballot or that votes on the constitutional amendment not be counted.
Sheryl Snyder, a Louisville attorney representing Marsy’s Law for Kentucky, said Rep. Joseph Fischer, a Fort Thomas Republican, was also granted permission to intervene in the case.
The Secretary of State’s office was named as defendant in the case but has declared itself neutral. An official with the Secretary of State’s Office said the office only administers elections and has no stance on the language of the constitutional amendment.
Monday is the deadline for the secretary to state to order the printing of ballots to enable ballots to be sent oversees and for absentee voting. Snyder said Wingate was aware of that when he set the briefing schedule, which likely sets arguments to be heard in October.
The language will be on the ballot, and the issue might not be decided before Election Day in November.
“We will, of course, argue there’s no harm in counting the ballots,” Snyder said. “If ‘Marsy’s Law’ (is approved by voters), we can litigate the issues after the election.”
Of the lawsuit, Snyder said, “we’re very confident the ballot question was properly phrased” and that the vote will go forward.
In a written statement issued at the time Marsy’s Law for Kentucky filed notice to intervene, Westerfield, who sponsored the bill, said: “The law has come under unfair and ridiculous attacks from the criminal trial bar, people who have no interest in the rights of victims in the criminal justice process. My concern is for the victims and for the integrity of our Constitutional Amendment process. The General Assembly overwhelmingly expressed a bipartisan desire for ‘Marsy’s Law’ to appear on the November ballot, and I intend to see that it does.”