Marsy Nicholas, a senior at UC Santa Barbara, was killed by her ex-boyfriend Kerry Conley on November 30, 1983. A week later, Marsy’s family walked into a grocery store and met the murderer. They had not been notified that Conley had been released on bail.
“If any good can come of something this horrible – the loss of my sister and the losses of other families of crime victims – it is that these violent acts served as a catalyst for change,” said Henry Nicholas, the brother of Marsy. “Marsy’s Law will provide for a more compassionate justice system for crime victims.”
Since the death of Marsy, Henry, CEO of the Fortune 500 company Broadcom, has orchestrated a nationwide campaign to put Marsy’s Law in state constitutions. Marsy’s law proposes to give victims of serious crimes including murder and rape So far, the law has been passed in California, Illinois and Ohio. Marsy’s Law is a law that grants rights and privileges to the victims of certain crimes during select legal processes. Specifically it proposes to require that victims are always given the choice to testify at bail hearings and court trials, to receive restitution from the defendant, and be notified of any legal proceeding involving the release of the defendant.
The North Carolina General Legislature has passed House Bill 551 on August 13, submitting Marsy’s Law to a public vote on the November 2018 ballot. If passed, Marsy’s law would expand the scope of victim’s rights and give them the right to be notified of, present at, and testify in any court proceeding involving the plea, conviction, adjudication, sentencing, or release of the accused. These proceedings include bail hearings, pleas, sentencing and parole hearings.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations have pointed out that the strengthening of victim’s rights would also strengthen the state’s power to prosecute individuals, weakening defendant’s rights. They argue that victim’s rights would stack the odds further in favor of the state and make it easier for prosecutors to convict, regardless of the defendant’s innocence or guilt because of restriction of information in discovery and automatic admissibility of possibility unduly prejudicial testimony. For example, while normally a victim of a house burglary while they were at work may not be a relevant witness and wouldn’t come into court, under the new law they would automatically have the right to testify at bail hearings and in trial.
In addition, a few unanswered questions remain as to the extent of the victim’s right to privacy and testimony, especially with regards to evidence in court proceedings. For instance, the text doesn’t describe what the victim’s right to privacy covers and whether or not the victim can use that right to limit evidence in their possession from coming into play during discovery, the process by which pieces of evidence are introduced into court.
Should the law be enshrined in the state constitution, it will be difficult to overturn and complicated to amend. The language of the law has already proved to be problematic in South Dakota, and legislators were forced to amend the law. The amendment passed a popular vote as of November 6th in North Carolina.
By William Ke, News Editor