Marsy’s Law involves the idea of “victim’s rights.” Back in 2008, California amended its constitution to enshrine certain rights guaranteed to victims of crimes and their families. Since then, Marsy’s Law—named after Marsy Nicholas, a California woman who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 1983—has become a political movement, sweeping through various states.
As of today, eight states have enacted some form of victim’s rights legislation, including:
- North Carolina
The victim’s rights movement is also present in Iowa. Supporters of the victim’s rights movement argue that the constitution guarantees rights for the criminally accused, but does not specifically provide for the rights of victims. As a result, the Marsy’s Law movement has made it their mission to give victims equal rights to those of enjoyed by criminal defendants.
However, the movement is not without its opponents. For example, the Marsy’s Law movement in Iowa has been opposed by the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
But, why would victim's rights advocacy organizations oppose a constitutional amendment promoting victim’s rights? This article discusses the substance of victims' rights and the controversy surrounding it.
What Rights are Guaranteed Under Marsy’s Law
States that have passed constitutional amendments for victim’s rights as prescribed by the Marsy’s Law movement explicitly recognize certain rights for victims of crimes, requiring state governments and law enforcement authorities to respect those rights.
Victim’s rights measures typically focus on the following rights:
- A victim’s right to privacy
- A victim’s right to restitution for the harms they suffered as a result of a crime
- The right for a victim and their family to be heard at the accused’s trial
- Protections for the victim’s safety
- A right to information about the accused’s criminal proceedings
- The right to a speedy and fair trial
Criticisms About Marsy’s Law
What is interesting about this issue is that among the people who have openly criticized Marsy’s Law are victim’s rights advocacy organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union. Initially, it is baffling why a victim’s rights organization would oppose a law designed to promote victim's rights.
Some critics specifically argue that “equal rights” for victims of crimes is a misleading phrase that implies that the criminally accused enjoy more rights than victims in a criminal proceeding.
Under the U.S. Constitution and the constitutions of the states, a person accused of a crime has the following rights:
- The right to a speedy and fair trial
- The right to assistance of counsel
- The right against compelled self-incrimination
- The right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures
- The right to a full defense against criminal charges
- The right to call witnesses and present evidence
- The right to cross-examine witnesses
Opponents of victim’s rights amendments point out that the rights of the accused, as listed in the constitution, are designed to prevent the government from abusing its power and to ensure that the defendant gets a fair trial before being deprived of their liberty and possibly their life. This prevents innocent people from being punished while the true criminal roams free, and prevents the government from exercising its power unjustly.
Conversely, victim’s rights are primarily concerned with the victim’s welfare. Victim’s rights does not appear to serve a greater societal purpose beyond that. Critics of Marsy’s law argue that since the rights of the accused and victim’s rights have different purposes, the idea of giving victims equal rights to that of the accused is a fallacy.
Critics also point out that the difference between the “victim” and the “aggressor” isn’t always clear in many cases. For instance, the accused in a murder case may have suffered from years of severe physical and psychological abuse. As a result, they killed their abuser to end the cycle of abuse. However, laws enacted under Marsy’s Law have excluded a defendant pleading self-defense from the definition of a “victim.”
The possible harm of victim’s rights laws involves diminishing the protections of the accused, who is inherently vulnerable to government overreach and social prejudice. While opponents who are also generally victim’s rights advocates respect the Marsy’s Law movement for its intentions, they don’t agree with the way the movement is trying to achieve its goals.
Hope Law Firm is Committed to Protecting Your Rights
If you are looking for a dedicated legal advocate to promote and preserve your legal rights and interests, look no further than Hope Law Firm. We have experience in defending people in criminal cases, to ensure their constitutional right to a fair trial is not infringed.
Call us at (515) 298-5056 or contact us online and get in touch with a member of our legal team to discuss your case today.