Marsy’s Law advocates, lawmakers rally at the state Capitol

February 7, 2019 GMT

BOISE — For years, a constitutional change that would expand the rights of crime victims in Idaho has caught the attention of citizens and lawmakers statewide.

In the wake of the recent emergence of “Marsy’s Law” for the third time in the state Legislature, advocates for crime victims came together at the Capitol on Wednesday, calling on lawmakers to support the proposed change that would extend victims’ constitutional rights.

“This gives the victims the opportunity to be heard,” said the resolution’s co-sponsor, Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa. “That’s what this is really all about — this gives them an effective voice in the process and makes sure that their rights are protected.”

Marsy’s Law, named after a California woman who was stalked and killed in 1983 by her ex-boyfriend after he was released from jail without her notification, would add protections for crime victims to the state Constitution. It was introduced by the Senate State Affairs Committee last week.

The joint resolution, SJR101, would update Idaho’s victims’ rights through a constitutional amendment, giving victims “reasonable and timely” notification of a defendant’s hearing, release or escape. The intent is to give victims more opportunities to speak throughout the process, Lakey said.

Among those who spoke at the Marsy’s Law rally were Sens. Lakey and Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, and Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa.

“We need to update those laws and make sure that it includes all of the parts of the criminal justice system that impact a victim,” said Lakey, a longtime proponent for Marsy’s Law. “It doesn’t give them more rights than the criminal defendant; it just puts their rights on an equal footing.”

In 2017, the Marsy’s Law proposal passed the Senate but died in the House State Affairs Committee. It was introduced again in 2018 but was just five votes short of what was needed to pass. For the proposed resolution to become an amendment to the Idaho Constitution, it must first pass the Senate and the House with a two-thirds vote. It would then be included on the ballot for voters to decide its outcome, Lakey said.

“If you live long enough, there will be many people in and out of your life that have experienced violence — violence that left them without a voice, without hope ... that left them fearful to even go to resources that can help them,” Buckner-Webb said. “I think that it’s my responsibility to look out for others, to support others, to help them have a voice.”

Lakey’s been involved in the effort to tackle victims’ rights since the issue first arose in the Legislature three years ago. Lakey, an attorney and former deputy prosecutor, said he’s seen the effects crime has on a person firsthand, which is why he supports the change.

“I’ve seen the victim’s perspective,” Lakey said. “I’ve sat in the courtroom and held somebody’s hand while they’re trying to explain how their life’s been changed by this individual that killed their daughter.”

However, not everyone thinks Marsy’s Law is necessary.

A notification system for victims is already in place in the Constitution through the 1994 Idaho Victims Rights amendment, which is why the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho doesn’t agree with the changes, according to Kathy Griesmyer, policy director.

ACLU has several concerns with the proposed resolution; they say it jeopardizes due process, places additional burdens on the “already overburdened and overworked criminal justice system,” has unclear language and lacks necessary funding, according to Griesmyer.

ACLU believes there are alternatives to addressing the needs of Idaho’s crime victims, citing a 2015 Boise State University report, “ Crime Victims in Idaho: An Assessment of Needs and Services.”

Marsy’s Law, Griesmyer said, doesn’t take into account any of the Idaho-specific recommendations in the report, and ACLU thinks there are more local solutions, such as the expansion and emphasis of outreach programs for crime victims.

“We have been opposed to Marsy’s Law since it first came to Idaho,” Griesmyer said. “A lot of the language being proposed ... we feel it’s unnecessary — they’ve had constitutional rights since 1994.”