Look, we’re all in favor of victim rights — District Attorneys now do what the can to help victims, and there are already laws that protect victims in many ways.
Marsy’s Law is on the ballot as a Constitutional amendment here in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, and everyone should vote “no.” Voting “no” doesn’t mean you’re against victim rights; it means you’re against bad law. And especially bad law that shouldn’t be in the Constitution in the first place.
The ACLU has stated its reasons for opposing this law and just won an injunction against it (which they filed along with the League of Women Voters). An injunction means that even if it passes, it will not go into effect until there is a hearing on its constitutionality. The reason the injunction was granted is because Pennsylvania requires that any addition to the constitution must have only one provision, and this has many parts. We are supposed to vote for each part individually.
But let me explain in simpler language why this is a bad idea, and why even the District Attorneys and judges I know are against it:
This would give victims rights equal to if not greater than the rights we give defendants in criminal cases. Victims, of course, do not face the entire power of the government against them like defendants do and victims have no chance of going to jail. There is a reason we give defendants many rights. This amendment would give victims the right to refuse to present evidence prior to a trial, to refuse to attend a deposition, to demand that trials not be continued, and to basically dictate to the District Attorney how to proceed in the case.
In other words, it takes the discretion away from the prosecutor to decide how — and even if — to proceed in a case.
It’s not often you get defense attorneys and prosecutors agreeing, but this time, they pretty much do.
Here’s the thing: I’ve dealt with victims, and the DAs and judges have dealt with victims and — stay with me here — sometimes the victim is wrong. Sometimes the victim is even lying.
Sometimes victims are like “My neighbor’s dog keeps crapping on my lawn, and you won’t arrest him and throw him in jail!” Sometimes they’re angry wives and husbands who exaggerate fights and even lie to get even with someone they’re mad at. Sometimes they’re crazy.
Thanks to this new law, these victims can demand that the DA take action, taking away the DA’s power to decide which cases to prosecute. This amendment apparently allows them to demand that a case be heard quickly when sometimes that is not the way to achieve justice, especially if there are preliminary motions that must be filed and investigations that have to be completed.
Should victims be heard? Absolutely. Should they dictate to everyone else how the system of justice should operate? Of course not.