Politics

The Kentucky General Assembly has passed Marsy’s Law — a constitutional amendment that would provide protections to victims of alleged crimes and require courts to notify victims when a defendant is released from custody, among other things.

The proposed amendment doesn’t need to be signed by the governor, but will need majority approval by Kentucky voters during a referendum on Election Day this year to become law.

Melissa Buchanan, an advocate whose brother was murdered by four men in 2000, said the proposal would have protected her from harassment by two of her brother’s killers who were out on bail.

“When this was happening with the harassment, I went to my local law enforcement and they said there was nothing they could do unless either myself or the kids were harmed,” Buchanan said.

“On behalf of my brother who was murdered, my family, and myself and crime victims everywhere, this is big. This is important to us. And I’m so, so very thankful.”

Marsy’s Law would give victims the right to be present and be heard at court proceedings. Courts would be required to notify victims about proceedings and if the defendant is released or escapes. Victims would have the right to restitution from those convicted of committing a crime against them.

The law is named after Marsy Nicholas, a Californian who was killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. Her family pushed for the measure after running into the accused in a grocery store —he had been released on bail.

The ACLU of Kentucky opposes the measure, saying it would overburden the justice system and give accusers an advantage over the accused.

On Wednesday, the organization tweeted that they would continue opposing the measure before the November referendum.

“Thanks to everyone that met with their legislators or called to oppose this measure. We’ll continue educating the public as this constitutional amendment moves to the Nov ballot,” the tweet read.

Seven states have passed Marsy’s Law, including Ohio, which approved a constitutional referendum on Marcy’s Law last November. Several other states have similar laws in place.

Last year in South Dakota, defense lawyers and prosecutors said that their state’s version of the law created delays in the court systems because hearings had to be rescheduled until victims were notified.

On the ballot in November, Kentuckians will be asked the following:

“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 legislature is considering several other constitutional amendments during this year’s legislative session, but is only allowed to pass four for the public to consider.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.