Marsy's Law Is Back For Kentucky's 2020 Legislative Session

Jan 15, 2020

A Kentucky lawmaker has reintroduced a bill that would give crime victims the same rights afforded to the accused, including a voice in the criminal justice system.

Marsy's Law would guarantee crime victims constitutional protections, including the right to be notified of all court proceedings, the right to be present for those hearings, and the right to be heard in any hearing involving an offender’s release, plea, or sentencing.

Voters in 2018 approved the constitutional amendment for Marsy’s Law with 63 percent support, but the measure was voided by the Kentucky Supreme Court last year because the question on the ballot was too vague.

State Senator Whitney Westerfield of Christian County is sponsoring the bill again in this year’s legislative session.  In an op-ed published on Tuesday in the Northern Kentucky Tribune, Westerfield said he's committed to putting the question before voters again this year and correcting the "imbalance of justice."

"It is important to understand that Kentucky's Supreme Court made no ruling on the substance of Marsy's Law. And, despite the set-back, the energy behind Marsy's Law remains strong with victim advocates, notable organizations, and my fellow legislators from across the Commonwealth," Westerfield wrote.

The bill's reintroduction follows a series of controversial pardons to convicted sex offenders and murderers issued by former Gov. Matt Bevin.  The bill includes one new provision allowing victims the right to be heard and notified of any pardon, commutation, or reprieve.

Kentucky is one of 15 states without constitutional protections for crime victims. The accused and convicted have many rights codified in the state Constitution, but crime victims have only statutory protections.

Marsy's Law is opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The groups allege the amendment is flawed due to its effects on the criminal justice system.

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