Kentucky victims’ rights law, Marsy’s Law, put on hold

Kentucky voters approved a new victims’ rights law by 60 percent Tuesday night, but it may never take effect. (WKRC)

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WKRC) - Kentucky voters approved a new victims’ rights law by 60 percent Tuesday night, but it may never take effect.

Marsy’s Law is now on hold as it faces challenges in court. The ballot language read, in part, "Are you in favor of providing constitutional rights to victims of crime?" and 63 percent of Kentucky voters said "yes" to the constitutional amendment proposed by state senator Whitney Westerfield.

“Right now, the victims are not on an equal footing with the accused. I believe they should be,” said Westerfield, a Republican from Hopkinsville.

But because of a court challenge, Marsy's Law may not become law. Kate Miller with the ACLU of Kentucky says the ballot language is too vague.

“The question is written in such a way that most individuals would automatically agree. Of course, we should support victims and survivors of crime,” said Miller.

The ACLU says Marsy's Law is well-intended but puts the presumption of innocence at risk.

“The fundamental rights that have been afforded to an individual accused of a crime are some of the most important rights that we have as Americans, and they have to be upheld and rigorously defended,” said Miller.

Marsy's Law guarantees victims 10 rights, including victims having the right to restitution, the right to be present at trial and the right to be heard at certain court proceedings.

Advocates of the law like Melissa Buchanan, whose brother was murdered, say it will help victims navigate the court system.

“Victims are just regular people,” said Buchanan. “The justice system is made up of lawyers, law enforcement and judges full of complicated procedures and legal jargon. It's very intimidating."

“I do think Marsy's Law is well-intended but given the serious and complicated nature of the policies laid out within Marsy's Law, I certainly think the question should have been more detailed and provided more information for voters."

The Kentucky Supreme Court will have to vote on whether Marsy's Law can be added to the state's constitution. That could happen in December when the justices meet.

Marsy's Law was also approved in Florida, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina and Oklahoma on Tuesday night. It's already on the books in California, Illinois, North Dakota, South Dakota and Ohio.

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