Court takes up ‘Marsy’s Law’ challenge weeks from election
FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) – Kentucky lawmakers overwhelmingly approved “Marsy’s Law” earlier this year, but the fate of the victims’ rights measure will be decided in court.
Attorneys sparred in Franklin Circuit Court on Tuesday over whether a summary of the legislation meets the criteria needed to land on ballots and be included in next month’s election.
The Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers filed a lawsuit in August, claiming the 38-word question asking voters to amend the state constitution runs afoul of state law because it fails to “inform the electorate of the substance of the amendment.”
It is seeking a court ruling that would keep the state elections board from making official any votes cast during the Nov. 6 election.
The “Marsy’s Law” measure would enshrine 10 rights for crime victims into the Kentucky Constitution, including the right to be notified of court proceedings and be heard during release, plea or sentencing hearings. Advocates say that while many of those protections are in state law, they’ll be stronger and more enforceable as constitutional rights.
But in arguments before Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate, defense lawyers’ association attorney Kenyon Meyer contended that the ballot question doesn’t explain specific details of “Marsy’s Law.” In court filings, the association has argued that by approving the new rights, Kentucky would constitutionally determine that a crime has been committed even before a conviction.
“The people should know what they’re voting on,” Meyer said.
The Kentucky House and Senate approved the “Marsy’s Law” amendment in January with bipartisan support and only four members of both chambers in opposition. Lawmakers agreed to place this question on the November ballot:
“Are you in favor of providing constitutional rights to victims of crime, including the right to be treated fairly, with dignity and respect, and the right to be informed and to have a voice in the judicial process?”
Sheryl Snyder, an attorney for Marsy’s Law for Kentucky, argued on Tuesday that lawmakers followed the state constitution in writing the ballot question and said previous case law gives wide latitude in summarizing sometimes complex legislation.
“Our argument simply is that the court should defer to the General Assembly’s formulation of the ballot question,” Snyder told reporters.
He told Wingate that placing the entire amendment – 555 words in the bill passed by lawmakers – on the ballot would certainly result in its defeat “because it will be confusing.”
Wingate said he would issue a ruling in about 10 days.
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