Contentious campaigning for Kentucky’s U.S. Senate seat between Mitch McConnell and Amy McGrath, and, of course, between Donald Trump and Joe Biden for the office of president, captures the vast majority of Kentucky’s political headlines in the run up to this fall’s general election.
Voters across the Bluegrass also will have opportunity to determine the outcome of two separate amendments to our state constitution. One of these, Constitutional Amendment 1, could provide a bill of rights for crime victims across the state.
The amendment proposal, more widely known as Marsy’s Law, is named after Marsalee Ann Nicholas, a California college student stalked and murdered by an ex-boyfriend in 1983.
Her mother was confronted by Kerry Michael Conley, the man arrested and charged with her daughter’s killing, while standing in the checkout line of a market as the Nicholas family stopped for a loaf of bread when returning home from the funeral. They had received no notification Conley had been released on bail just days following his arrest for their daughter’s homicide.
Conley later was convicted of killing Nicholas and was sentenced to life. Although he had the possibility of parole, Conley died in prison.
Led and sponsored by Marsy’s brother, Dr. Henry T. Nicholas III, Marsy’s Law first passed in California in 2008. Since then, it and similar constitutional crime victim protections have been enacted in 14 other states. Kentucky and Ohio both have Marsy’s Law amendment questions on the November ballot.
During the 2018 election, 63 percent of Kentucky voters approved extending crime victims “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” as the ballot question read.
Franklin Circuit Court blocked certification of the 2018 election results, ruling the amendment was invalid because its entire text did not appear on the ballot and the one-sentence description was too vague and inadequate for voters to make an informed decision. The state Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court’s opinion and enactment of the amendment was set aside.
Earlier this year, lawmakers in the state Senate and House again passed a proposal in overwhelming and bipartisan manner.
This time, voters will find the entire 614-word language of the amendment question on the ballot. Voters should again support the amendment by voting “yes” again.
The amendment proposal isn’t without its opponents.
The Kentucky Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers has challenged the amendment, saying it would “turn the presumption of innocence inside out” by designating an individual as a crime victim before legally establishing a crime had occurred or convicting the accused for committing it.
Locally, Commonwealth’s Attorney Shane Young has referred to the amendment as “feel good legislation,” saying it could delay judicial proceedings by giving victims and their attorneys constitutional standing to speak in court. Other challengers say protections for crime victims are already in place and that a constitutional amendment for such isn’t necessary.
But guaranteeing crime victims constitutionally protected rights as afforded to those accused or convicted for committing the crimes against them is the right thing to do.
The right to timely notification of court proceedings, to be present at those hearings, and to be heard in any hearing involving a release, plea or sentencing, as well as the right to consult with prosecutors, is protection deserving of every victim of crime.
These may not help such victims and their families recover from the crimes committed against them, but they will provide them the voice they need along the way.
This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.