Kentucky voters back ‘Marsy’s Law’ amendment; question heads to state Supreme Court
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Kentucky voters resoundingly backed a ballot measure that would enshrine crime victims’ rights in the state constitution, a step forward for a proposal winding its way through the courts system.
With 81 of the state’s 120 counties reporting, 64 percent of voters had endorsed constitutional protections known as “Marsy’s Law.”
While the votes from Tuesday’s elections will be counted, a judge has ruled that they won’t be certified until a court challenge brought by an attorneys’ group is resolved at the state Supreme Court.
In a statement, Marsy’s Law for Kentucky said voters spoke “loud and clear” on the measure.
“After a three-year educational campaign, voters overwhelmingly agreed that victims should be afforded rights equal to those already provided to the accused and convicted,” the advocacy organization said.
“Marsy’s Law” bills passed the Kentucky General Assembly swiftly and with little opposition this year, but in August the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys filed a lawsuit seeking to keep the question amending the constitution off the November ballot.
Among other arguments, the group claimed the 38-word question put to voters doesn’t follow state law because it fails to “inform the electorate of the substance of the amendment.”
The question, as it appeared on ballots, read: “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?”
The measure would place 10 rights for crime victims into the state constitution, including the right to be notified of court proceedings and be heard during release, plea or sentencing hearings. Supporters acknowledge that state law already provides some of these rights, but they argue they’ll be stronger and more enforceable in the constitution.
Opponents say the proposal would have unforeseen consequences. The notification requirements alone could strain an already overworked court system, they say, while some fear Kentucky would constitutionally determine that a crime has been committed even before a conviction.
In mid-October, Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate ruled that the question wasn’t worded accurately and ordered elections officials not to certify the results.
"It would be unduly harmful to allow the citizens of the commonwealth to vote on a proposed constitutional amendment where the question posed does not accurately inform the electorate of the substance contained" in the bill passed by the legislature, Wingate wrote.
State Sen. Whitney Westerfied, the Hopkinsville Republican who sponsored the “Marsy’s Law” measures in the Kentucky legislature, has appealed the ruling.