Kentucky Politics

Unofficial results show Kentucky voters will again approve the constitutional amendment known as Marsy’s Law, aiming to expand and ensure rights for crime victims in the justice system.

The Kentucky State Board of Elections reports Kentuckians approved Constitutional Amendment 1 on Tuesday with 63% of the vote tallying 1,135,511 votes in total, in unofficial results with all counties reporting. The constitutional ballot amendment is designed to ensure rights for crime victims including the right to be notified and present at hearings including pleas, sentencing, and the consideration of commutations and pardons.

State Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Republican Whitney Westerfield co-sponsored the bill that put Marsy’s Law constitutional amendment on the ballot. He said voters’ approval is a win for crime victims.

“This corrects an imbalance in the court system and gives victims, not control over the process, but a meaningful voice in the process. They can at least be treated with respect and dignity,” Westerfield said.

Marsy’s Law is a constitutional amendment first approved by California voters in 2008, and has since been approved by voters in Illinois, North Dakota, Ohio, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Nevada, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and South Dakota. A national group backed by a California billionaire lobbies across the country for Marsy’s Law.

Kentucky voters previously approved the amendment in 2018, but the Kentucky Supreme Court blocked the amendment, ruling the entire proposal should have been included on the ballot instead of a 38-word summary.

The ACLU of Kentucky was one of a few groups opposing the amendment, stating the amendment language would create legal confusion in the criminal justice system. ACLU of Kentucky Staff Attorney Heather Gatnarek said the true impact of the amendment on the criminal justice system remains to be seen.

“Whether or not this brings victims the relief that they’re hoping for will depend largely upon the individual judges, prosecutors, and other people in the criminal-legal system on an individual case,” Gatnarek said.

Gatnarek added she also worries the amendment won’t provide the needed resources for prosecutors to provide the stated rights in the amendment. Westerfield said many of the rights in the amendment don’t necessarily need funding, and that he plans to work with the state legislature to get more funding for victim advocates in the criminal justice system.