Would Marsy's Law Help Or Hurt The Criminal Justice System?

Nov 5, 2018

Nevadans will see several ballot questions this election, including Question 1: Marsy’s law. KUNR’s Bree Zender explores how Marsy’s Law came to be and how approval of this question could impact crime victims and possibly those accused of crimes.

The origins of Marsy’s law start in a dark place: a murder in 1983.

“Marsy Nicholas was a college student at UC Santa Barbara,” said Marsy’s Law for Nevada Director Will Batista. “And, unfortunately, she was stalked and murdered by her ex-boyfriend. About a week after the funeral, the family came out of a grocery store, and they ran into the accused.”

Marsy’s Law for Nevada is a push Batista said would bring crime victims guaranteed knowledge to what’s going on in their case under the Nevada constitution. The law was borne out of Marsy’s parents feeling that they had the right to know if the person accused of murdering their daughter was released on bail. At the time, law enforcement was not required to tell them.

“They went to the authorities and essentially they said, ‘Hey, you know, there’s no process in place. There’s no legislation, no rights that are afforded to you, so we didn’t have to let you know,’ ” Batista said.

Marsy’s parents were able to get those rights put in place for Californians. Since then, it’s spread to other places, including Nevada. Laws were put in place over the past two state legislative sessions, which guaranteed rights for crime victims and their families. The problem, Batista says, is that the laws are not being enforced and need to be placed in the constitution.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, however, feels that Marsy's Lawcould potentially deny due process for the accused. State Policy Director, Holly Welborn, said it operates under the assumption that the accused is already guilty.

“It’s intruding on the most sacred constitutional right that criminal defendants have in our court system, and that’s the presumption of innocence,” Welborn said.

Welborn also argues that implementation of the law could create a bottleneck in the criminal justice system, which may keep potentially innocent people in jail for longer. Batista counters, saying that he doesn’t foresee a backlog and that the measure would help foster better communication between law enforcement, victims and the court system.

Similar constitutional Marsy's Law provisions have been put in place in Ohio and Illinois.