A quick glance at the ballots for the upcoming election on November 5th, reveals a question at the end about a proposed constitutional amendment for crime victim rights. Introduced as PA House Bill 276 and commonly referred to as Marsy’s Law, it’s a nationwide effort to specifically add a series of victim’s rights to the various state constitutions. A yes vote means it becomes an amendment, a no vote, it doesn’t.
The answer is obvious, … or is it?
Unless you are in the habit of following legislation very closely, this question may appear to have come out of nowhere and since everyone supports victim’s rights, the yes or no answer might seem obvious, but it’s not quite that simple.
One not so obvious fact is that Pennsylvania already has a crime victims act passed in 1998. This amendment would add very little to those protections and simply duplicate what already exists. Advocates say otherwise and the arguments quickly descend into territory unlikely to be sorted out by anyone unfamiliar with or involved in criminal court proceedings on a daily basis. There is also an interesting background story to the funding for the group, Marcy’s Law for Pennsylvania, that is its primary proponent.
The Pennsylvania League of Women Voters as well as the ACLU of Pennsylvania are suing to stop the passage of this amendment which is also opposed by the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys. The Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvania campaign, Governor Wolf and the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association all support it.
Twelve states have passed Marsy’s Law so far.
The bill has passed both houses of the PA General Assembly for two consecutive sessions and is now on the ballot and if approved by the voters and signed by the governor, who has already indicated his support, it will become an amendment to the PA constitution.
This issue is complex and arguments, both pro and con, are convincing. It would have been helpful if there had been a more robust conversation in public before it showed up on the ballot as a yes or no question.