Senate unanimously approves Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvania; Step one in equal constitutional protections for crime victims

Senate unanimously approves Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvania; Step one in equal constitutional protections for crime victims

Proposal ensures victims would have same rights as accused

HARRISBURG — Crime victims across Pennsylvania scored a victory in the state Senate today with passage of Marsy’s Law, marking the first step in victims gaining constitutional protections on par with the rights of the accused.

The measure, which passed 50-0, now goes to the House where it will be initially voted on by the Judiciary Committee.

“I applaud my Senate colleagues who stood up for victims and their families who have been battered and brutalized physically and mentally but never had a guarantee that they will be a part of the criminal justice process,” said the bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. Guy Reschenthaler of Allegheny/Washington counties. “Today’s action is the first step in a long process of putting victims on equal footing with those accused of harming them.”

The Pennsylvania Constitution enumerates rights for individuals accused and convicted of a crime. Victims, however, have no state constitutional protections. Pennsylvania is one of 15 states whose constitution is silent on victims’ rights, Reschenthaler noted.

Commonwealth Victim Advocate Jennifer Storm was gratified the fight for victims’ rights enjoyed a successful beginning:

“Crime victims’ rights in Pennsylvania are covered by strong statutory law, but I hear stories all the time of victims not being notified of a defendant’s release or not being allowed to testify during sentencing,” Storm said. “Victims have absolutely no recourse in these situations. Criminals should not enjoy stronger protections than those they’ve harmed. Marsy’s Law ensures victims have the same constitutional protections, and I thank the Senate for recognizing how important that is.”

Marsy’s Law is named after Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas of California, who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. A week after her death, Marsy’s mother and brother, Henry T. Nicholas, walked into a grocery store where they were confronted by the accused murderer. The family, fresh from visiting Marsy’s grave, was unaware that the accused had been released on bail. To honor his sister, Dr. Nicholas has made it his life’s mission to give victims and their families constitutional protections and equal rights. This is a national movement, with states such as Kentucky and Ohio working on legislation.

In 2015, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency reported more than 40,000 violent crimes and nearly 845,000 crimes overall.

“Each of these crimes is accompanied by multiple steps in the criminal or juvenile justice systems,” Reschenthaler said. “That represents hundreds of thousands of chances for victims to be overlooked or disregarded. It’s imperative we have the constitution behind them.”

The proposed constitutional amendment would ensure crime victims have the right to:

  • Receive information about their rights
  • Receive notification of proceedings in their criminal cases
  • Be present at court proceedings
  • Be heard at plea and sentencing proceedings
  • Be treated with fairness, respect and dignity

Pennsylvania’s constitutional amendment process requires the change to be approved in two consecutive legislative sessions, followed by voter approval in a ballot referendum.

“We do not amend the constitution lightly in this commonwealth; it is purposefully a long and deliberative process,” Reschenthaler said. “I encourage my colleagues in the House to stand behind victims’ rights and approve Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvania.”

Identical legislation was introduced in the state House by Rep. Sheryl Delozier of Cumberland County.