FRANKFORT — On Tuesday, the Kentucky Senate approved legislation that would place a proposed constitutional amendment on a statewide ballot to create a crime victim “bill of rights.”
Senate Bill 175, which seeks to enumerate constitutional protections for crime victims that don’t currently exist, passed by a 34-1 vote and was forwarded to the House for its consideration.
Among the bill’s protections are a right to be heard at steps along the justice process such as hearings, plea deal negotiations, sentencings and parole hearings. Victims would also have a stated right to be treated with “fairness and respect,” to be kept abreast of developments as a case progresses and to have reasonable protection from the accused or anyone acting on their behalf if the bill passes.
Many of the provisions are commonly offered to victims, sponsor Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, said while introducing the bill. Many aren’t codified, however.
Westerfield said there are around 9,000 violent crimes in Kentucky each year.
“For every one of those violent offenses, there’s at least one victim, sometimes more. The rights that they are afforded either don’t exist at all or exist in random places in statute,” he added.
“While we have a lot of people at the end of the day that work to make sure victims are taken care of, I think it’s important that we enshrine (these) rights in the state constitution.”
The only no vote came from Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, who said he supported the bill but as an amendment to the state constitution it should be studied further.
If adopted by the House, the amendment would go to a statewide ballot in November. A win there would make Kentucky the 33rd state in the U.S. to enact constitutional protections for crime victims, better known as “Marsy’s Law.”
“Marsy’s Law for All” is a national effort to get those rights recognized in all 50 states. The movement is named for Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas, a California college student stalked and killed by her boyfriend in 1983. A week later, Nicholas’ mother and brother ran into the suspect at a local grocery store, unaware that he had been released on bail. They had not been notified.
The brother, Dr. Henry Nicholas, spearheaded an effort to get victim rights recognized. The first “Marsy’s Law” passed in California in 2008.