Proposed crime victims' rights to go on Kentucky ballot

Posted at 4:19 PM, Jan 24, 2018

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A measure that would expand Kentucky’s Constitution to bolster rights for crime victims finished its quick journey through the General Assembly on Wednesday. Its next stop will be on the statewide ballot in November, when voters will have the final say.

The Kentucky House voted 87-3 to put the proposal on the ballot, with one lawmaker saying it would “balance the scales of justice.” The measure also passed the Senate with strong bipartisan support earlier this month.

Supporters of the measure promised a vigorous campaign to win the backing of Kentucky’s electorate.

“We anticipate a huge victory come November,” said Ashlea Christiansen, who heads an advocacy group pushing the measure.

Known as Marsy’s Law, the proposal would expand the rights of crime victims. Those guarantees would include the right to a voice in the judicial process, the right to be present at judicial hearings and the right to be made aware of upcoming hearings or changes in their offenders’ status. The lead sponsor was Republican Sen. Whitney Westerfield of Hopkinsville.

The proposal is part of a national movement to strengthen crime victims’ rights.

Kentucky is among 14 states that don’t provide constitutional-level rights to victims, Republican state Rep. John Blanton of Salyersville said while touting the measure Wednesday. The measure’s supporters say protections in existing Kentucky law for crime victims are inadequate.

Blanton said the proposal “seeks to balance the scales of justice without diminishing the rights of the accused, and finally give victims ... the same legal protection as those who are accused and convicted of the crime.”

The proposal drew some objections as it wound through the legislature. During prior committee hearings, lawmakers heard from civil liberties and defense lawyers’ groups. Critics said the proposal could slow the pace of criminal trials by allowing victims to have their own attorneys or advocates make arguments in court alongside prosecutors and defense attorneys.

The proposal also would guarantee crime victims the right to notification of their assailants’ release or escape, the right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay, the right to reasonable protection from the accused and the right to restitution.

The measure is among a stack of proposed constitutional amendments that Kentucky lawmakers are considering.