Why Pennsylvanians Should Vote “No” On Marsy’s Law
by Elizabeth Randol
On November 5, Pennsylvania voters will decide whether or not to enact Marsy’s Law, a constitutional amendment that its supporters say would give crime victims “co-equal” rights to those of the accused. Over the past 40 years, the federal government and every state have enacted laws to help victims, including Pennsylvania’s Crime Victims Act. In 2008, California became the first state to adopt Marsy’s Law as a constitutional amendment. Since then, several other states have followed suit. But because most states have only recently adopted Marsy’s Law, we are just now beginning to see the full consequences of its vague and problematic language. While Marsy’s Law is designed to appeal to a sense of fairness, there are a number of significant problems with the proposed amendment.
First, by promising “co-equal” rights between victim and perpetrator, the law dangerously ignores the different purposes each right serves. Our constitution vigorously protects the accused, not because the law values defendants more than victims, but because it values protecting individuals from excessive government power. Defendants’ rights only apply when the state is attempting to deprive the accused — not the victim — of life, liberty, or property. These rights are designed to be robust in order to effectively check the vast power of the government. Victims’ rights, however, are intended to ensure recovery for individuals, not to limit or protect against state power.
Second, Marsy’s Law undermines due process and upends presumption of innocence by giving victims a say in the process before a crime has been established or a person convicted. If someone is presumed to be the victim of a crime before a jury returns a verdict, then the accused is presumed guilty, not innocent. And by granting victims new rights, such as the right to a speedy trial and the refuse depositions and discovery requests, Marsy’s Law also undermines due process protections necessary to defend oneself.
Third, Marsy’s Law is unnecessary and duplicative of existing Pennsylvania law. Pennsylvania’s Crime Victims Act already provides many of the rights granted under Marsy’s Law — and more. It isn’t the law that fails victims; it’s the entities responsible for upholding the law that fail to inform and…