The organization known as "Marsy's Law for Wisconsin" has launched a major advertising push to put a "victims' rights" amendment on the statewide April 2 ballot.
The initiative already passed both houses of the Legislature during the past session and if the new Legislature that convenes next week does the same by Jan. 22, it will automatically go to voters to decide if the amendment should be made part of the Wisconsin Constitution.
Some view the amendment as unnecessary since Wisconsin law already spells out the rights of crime victims — in fact, 25 years ago it was the first state in the nation to do so.
The Marsy's Law coalition, which is attempting to pass the law in all 50 states, believes that the law can be strengthened by making it part of the Wisconsin Constitution, making the rights of victims equal to the rights of the accused — nothing more, nothing less, it insists.
"Marsy's Law" is named after a California woman named Marsalee Nicholas who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. Only a week after her death, Marsy's mother and brother, Henry Nicholas, walked into a grocery store where they were confronted by the accused murderer. The family had no idea he had been released on bail.
Nicholas, a tech billionaire, decided to honor his sister by seeking a victims' rights amendment added to the constitutions of all 50 states. He is spending millions in each state to advocate for its passage.
Marsy's Law requires authorities, for instance, to notify victims for their own protection if the accused is released from custody and, among other requirements, apprise crime victims of court proceedings involving the defendant. So far, nearly half the states have made the law part of their constitutions.
But a provision in the law to allow victims to choose to not participate in legal discovery proceedings or submit to depositions from the accused's lawyers has prompted some trial attorneys to claim it would erect yet another barrier for defendants to get a fair trial. The law's supporters, which include both Democrats and Republicans, law enforcement officials, and organizations like the Rape Crisis Center, counter that it would give victims the same rights the accused have in invoking the Fifth Amendment. It prevents the victims from being intimidated by the accused, says Brian Reisinger, Marsy's Law Wisconsin coordinator, adding that that's the last thing an innocent crime victim should be required to endure.
So, should Marsy's Law indeed become a right in the Wisconsin Constitution? After hearing from dozens of victims who've related their own stories, especially those who've been rape victims and forced, for example, to allow an accused to read their diaries, I'd say yes.
First of all, the law is really no big deal for Wisconsin. We've been living with similar requirements for 25 years now, so making it a constitutional right won't upset anything, yet it will give victims a sense they're protected.
Innocent victims of crimes shouldn't have to suffer even more than they already have.
Let's put the question on the April 2 ballot and let the people decide.
Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org, 608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.
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