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Court Rules Against Kentucky Marsy's Law Ballot Language, Appeal Likely

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The Indiana Supreme Court is considering a sentence appeal for a man convicted in 2020 of killing and mutilating his ex-girlfriend at her Jeffersonville home.

A court has ruled that when Kentucky voters weigh in on whether to add new rights for crime victims in the state Constitution this November, the results should not be certified.

Next month Kentuckians are scheduled to vote on "Marsy's Law,” a proposed Constitutional amendment that would require courts to notify crime victims when a defendant is released from custody, give them the right to testify at court proceedings and the right to restitution from those convicted of committing a crime against them, among other provisions.

The proposal passed out of the legislature earlier this year, but has to be approved by a majority of Kentucky voters in order to become law.

As part of the bill that passed the legislature, lawmakers agree that the question voters should see on the ballot should be as follows:
“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?”
The Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers sued to keep Marsy’s Law language off the ballot, saying that the question voters will see on the ballot is too vague.

On Monday, Franklin Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wingate agreed.

“It is unfair for the electorate to vote on a proposed constitutional amendment in which the question posed is misleading and fails to inform the public of the actual substance of the proposed constitutional amendment,” Wingate wrote in an 18-page ruling.

Wingate’s order said that the Secretary of State’s office could still count the votes over Marsy’s Law, but that the tally would not count towards enshrining the policy in the state constitution until any appeals of the decision had been exhausted.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, a Republican from Hopkinsville and chief sponsor of the policy, said in a statement that he would appeal the decision.

“I profoundly disagree with this determination, and will seek transfer of the inevitable appeal directly to the Kentucky Supreme Court,” Westerfield wrote. “As the sponsor of SB 3, I have worked tirelessly to elevate the voice of crime victims within the criminal justice system as a constitutional right, and I am steadfastly committed to this cause regardless of today’s ruling. I remain confident that SB 3 will be incorporated into the Kentucky Constitution by the voters of the Commonwealth.”

Marsy’s Law was named for a Californian murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. Her family pushed for the measure after running into the accused killer in a grocery store — he had been released on bail.

Marsy’s law is scheduled to be considered by voters in five other states on Election Day this year. Similar measures have been added to the constitutions of 15 other states.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. Email Ryland at rbarton@lpm.org.