Kentucky Supreme Court strikes down Marsy's Law
Kentucky Supreme Court strikes down Marsy’s Law. | Courtesy Lexington Herald-Leader

By John Cheves | Lexington Herald-Leader

The Kentucky Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a voter-approved constitutional amendment known as Marsy’s Law that would have established roughly a dozen rights for crime victims in state courts.

The high court ruled that the actual language of the amendment — although lengthy and complex — should have been presented to voters on the statewide ballot last November, rather than the brief summary that voters saw. The Kentucky Constitution does not provide for a brief summary of proposed amendments, the court said.

Screenshot from TV ad about Marsy's Law
This screenshot from a television ad shows Jessica Schweitzer, the widow of a Louisville police officer, advocating for a Kentucky Marsy’s Law, a constitutional amendment that would create protections for crime victims. | Courtesy Lexington Herald-Leader

“The meaning of the phrase ‘such proposed amendment or amendments shall be submitted to the voters’ is plain and its direction is clear: The amendment is to be presented to the people for a vote,” Chief Justice John Minton wrote for the court.

Kentucky’s version of Marsy’s Law would have established assorted rights for crime victims, many similar to rights that have existed in state law since 1986.

They include the right to be heard at court proceedings; for proceedings to be free from unreasonable delay; to be notified when a defendant is released or escapes custody; to have reasonable protection from the accused and those acting on behalf of the accused; to have consideration for their safety, dignity and privacy; and to consult with prosecutors.

Critics said Marsy’s Law promised to sow confusion in the courts by giving one or more designated crime victims a formal say at every important hearing, even before a defendant is convicted and it hasn’t necessarily been established that a crime has occurred.

Existing law already gives crime victims the right to explain to the courts before sentencing how they were harmed and to request notification when an inmate is released from custody, among other legal protections, opponents said.

Marsy’s Law was approved by about 63 percent of the voters.

A Franklin Circuit Court judge ruled Oct. 15 that the short ballot question crafted by legislators last winter was misleading because it failed to accurately state what the amendment would do. As a result of that ruling, the Nov. 6 votes on Marsy’s Law were counted but were not been certified by state elections officials.

On the ballot, voters simply were asked: “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?”