Marsy’s Law would be costly mistake for Nevada: ACLU
Speaking in opposition the Marsy’s Law Crime Victims Rights Amendment, Question 1 on the November ballot, Max Larnerd of the Nevada ACLU cautioned Democrats in attendance at their Labor Day luncheon that the measure would create no real rights not already provided for under existing law, but that it would mandate costly new burdens on the criminal justice system that would serve only to bog down the administration of justice.
Larnerd explained that victim rights laws have been on the books in Nevada since the 1980’s, and that in 1996 74.3% of voters approved Question 2, a measure which added Article I Section 8(2) to the Nevada Constitution. This granted victims the right to be noticed of, be present at, and be heard at court proceedings related to the sentencing and release of their victimizers. It charged legislators with making laws to give these new rights teeth, and as spelled out in detail on the Carson DA’s website, these laws address not just the victim’s right to be heard, but also rights to restitution, return of stolen property, compensation by the state, and the protection of personal privacy.
Larnerd noted that other states have had second thoughts. Most notably, South Dakota found that sparsely-populated rural counties were forced to divert up to $500,000 of their scarce resources to satisfying the new notice requirements. As a result, that state has gone to an opt-in system similar to Nevada’s. In California, some provisions of Marsy’s Law were struck down as unconstitutional violations of due process. Montana’s Supreme Court struck down its entire Marsy’s Law for violating the state’s single-subject rule, and in Florida the issue was removed from the ballot because it was deemed misleading to voters.
Larnerd believes we can expect a similar flurry of litigation here, especially as several provisions of Question 1 appear to conflict with well-established rights of criminal defendants. Marsy’s Law would nullify Nevada’s existing victim rights regime and force the lawmaking process to begin all over again with a long, vaguely-worded list of rights written directly into the state constitution itself. Some of these rights would only be accessible to victims with the means to pursue litigation. They would also take many years to modify if they proved unworkable.
“Perhaps the most concerning violation of defendants’ rights that arises from Question 1,” Larnerd said, “is the undermining of the presumption of innocence, the hallmark of our entire justice system. By granting victims the opportunity to enter the process at early stages of a criminal proceeding, Marsy’s Law would fundamentally change the American justice system as we know it.”