In 1983, Marsalee “Marsy” Ann Nicholas, a senior at the University of Santa Barbara, was stalked and murdered by her ex-boyfriend. One week later, on the way home from Marsy’s funeral service, the Nicholas family stopped to pick up a loaf of bread from the grocery store. While waiting in the checkout, Marsy’s mother casually looked behind her and saw her daughter’s murderer patiently waiting in line. The family received no notification that he was released on bail.
This inspired her brother, Henry T. Nicholas, to begin the campaign for a collection of victims’ rights laws now known as Marsy’s Law. Nicholas sponsored the first Marsy’s Law in 2008, which was placed on a California ballot as Proposition 9.
Marsy’s Law encapsulates a bill of rights for crime victims. These include — among others — a victim’s right to dignity and respect, right to privacy, the ability to be present during appropriate court proceedings and the right to be notified of their assailants’ whereabouts to a reasonable degree.
Marsy’s Law currently exists in six states: California, South Dakota, North Dakota, Illinois, Montana and Ohio. Surprisingly, in today’s divided political sphere, support for Marsy’s Law is generally bipartisan, as it is a state-by-state decision that sacrifices little with the ratification of this amendment. As such, the lobbyist group, Marsy’s Law for All, has been able to put the proposed Wisconsin constitution amendment on the ballot to be voted on by state residents.
A recent lawsuit failed to block a statewide ballot which intended to question whether or not Wisconsin should amend Marsy’s Law, a series of clauses intended to protect and constitutionalize crime victim’s rights, after receiving bipartisan approval by both the state Senate and Congress. The initiative seeks to amend the victim’s right to be informed of when their offender has been released from jail and to refuse questioning from opposing attorneys, among other rights.
The positives for Wisconsin to amend Marsy’s Law far outweigh the single negative, which is more bureaucratic and philosophical than practical. Technically, Wisconsin citizens are already protected by the same laws outlined in Marsy’s law. However, Marsy’s Law aims to amend these laws to be a part of state rights, therefore equalizing victim and accused rights.
Some constitutional purists argue that there is a distinct difference between a victim’s rights and the accused rights. Accused rights are designed to protect people’s government tyranny while the victim’s rights are in place to protect individuals from individuals. However, this argument fails to recognize the government is also responsible for protecting and maintaining the safety and security of its citizens.
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Other than this well-intentioned, but poorly developed constitutional argument, there is little opposition to Marsy’s law. According to Wisconsin Judge Paul Cassel, the cost of implementation would be almost negligible, with the only real increase in court spending coming from notifying victims of court dates and times.
Our country’s and our state’s core principles are based on equality, civil rights and progress. No matter how far we stray from these morals, we can always turn back. The amendment of Marsy’s Law will help keep UW students and the rest of Wisconsin citizens safe.
Jonah McGarvey ([email protected]) is a freshman studying political science.