Pennsylvania Voters Can Honor Victims and their Bravery by Voting for Marsy’s Law
By: Abbie Newman, R.N., J.D.
CEO, Mission Kids Child Advocacy Center
In Pennsylvania, accused criminals are afforded a number of rights by way of our state constitution. So, why wouldn’t crime victims have the same protections? In its current rendition, the Pennsylvania Constitution surprisingly does not address the rights of crime victims. Although the 1998 Crime Victims Act provides entitlements such as access to basic information about available services or notifications regarding case proceedings, victims essentially have no recourse if and when these statutory rights are violated, creating an imbalance of justice that can be devastating for already suffering victims and their families.
On November 5th, Pennsylvania residents will have the opportunity to vote on a proposed victims’ rights amendment to the state constitution by way of a question on the Municipal Election ballot. The proposed amendment, known as Marsy’s Law, would protect and expand the legal rights of crime victims, ensuring they have the equal say that they deserve during legal proceedings. By adopting the proposed constitutional amendment, Pennsylvania would join a growing list of states from across the country that have written victims’ rights into their own constitutions.
From California to Georgia, support for Marsy’s Law extends across a number of cultural, social and demographic boundaries. In fact, the law qualified to be on the November ballot by way of being passed by the Pennsylvania General Assembly in two consecutive legislative sessions, including unanimously in both the PA House and Senate during the 2017-18 legislative session. Victims’ rights is not a partisan issue, but rather one of right and wrong.
Marsy’s Law is named after Marsalee Nicholas, a California college student who was murder by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. Following her death, Marsalee’s family unexpectedly encountered the accused murder in public, as they had not been informed that he was released on bail. The startling and unsettling event prompted them to advocate for expanded rights for victims and their families. Today, advocacy groups such as “Marsy’s Law for All” continue to push to improve the lives of victims by providing them with equal protections and participation during the legal process.
The proposed law has its critics and opponents in Pennsylvania who argue the amendment could encroach on defendants’ rights. However, rather than impacting the accused, Marsy’s Law simply gives victims their long-deserved voice in the criminal justice process. Victims’ rights would not supersede or trump those of the accused. The amendment would guarantee victims co-equal rights as the accused and convicted, nothing more and nothing less.
At Mission Kids Child Advocacy Center, we understand the need to empower victims and give them a voice, especially in their most vulnerable moments. All too often, victims are discounted or forgotten, silenced in their time of need. As the CEO of Mission Kids, I stand with state leaders such as Governor Tom Wolf, PA Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele in unwavering support for Marsy’s Law. I strongly encourage Pennsylvania residents to consider how we can improve the lives of crime victims in our state and vote for the addition of Marsy’s Law to the Pennsylvania Constitution on November 5th. When victims speak out, we should honor their bravery with the same constitutional rights that have always been afforded to the accused and convicted rather than treat them as second class citizens, both inside and outside the court room.
Abbie Newman is the CEO of Mission Kids Child Advocacy Center, an organization dedicated to achieving healing and justice for victims of child abuse. www.missionkidscac.org
Child Advocacy Center of Montgomery County
180 W. Germantown Pike, Suite 1, East Norriton, PA 19401