/Victims’ rights bill pushed by California billionaire quietly up for debate in Legislature

Victims’ rights bill pushed by California billionaire quietly up for debate in Legislature

Wednesday morning saw the House adopt a constitutional amendment that would create a bill for victims of the juvenile and criminal justice systems. The bill would grant victims rights such as the right to refuse defendants’ requests in the discovery phase of trials, and participation in all public proceedings. Victims would be able to request courts to enforce their rights under law through the bill. Voters would be asked if the amendment should be included in the state constitution if it is passed. In 1998, a previous constitution amendment regarding victims’ rights was passed. The measure was sponsored by Speaker Philip Gunn (Republican from Clinton), and Marsy’s Law for All is a model legislation that several states have adopted. This group, which was founded in California by Henry Nicholas, an eccentric California tech billionaire, advocates for victims’ rights. We can all agree that no rapist should be granted more rights than the victim. The website states that no murderer should have more rights than the victim’s loved ones. “Marsy’s Law would guarantee that victims have co-equal rights with the accused and convicted. Nothing more. Nothing less.” “Marsy’s Law isn’t a partisan issue. Nicholas spent millions of dollars over the past decade to pass similar bills across eleven states. After his sister Marsalee was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 1983, he created Marsy’s Law for All. Marsy’s family didn’t receive notification that he was being released on bond, and he ran into them at a grocery shop. In 2018, six states including Georgia and Florida approved similar ballot measures to the one in Mississippi. Austin Barbour, the lobbyist for the group in Jackson, is his name. Proponents of Marsy’s Law and Barbour say that it will bring victims’ rights up to par with defendants in criminal-justice systems. This group plans to amend the U.S. Constitution to include a victim’s bill of rights. After a successful state ballot initiative, Mississippi established a state victims’ rights law in 1998. This law describes how law enforcement agencies notify victims and how prosecutors inform victims. It also outlines the obligations of prosecuting attorneys to confer with victims in criminal prosecutions. According to Marsy’s Law supporters, the proposed constitutional amendment H.C. 47 would allow victims to opt-in to the rights rather than making them compulsory for everyone. Legal experts are concerned about the proposed amendment, H.C. 47. They claim it could violate a defendant’s constitutional due process rights. Drew Findling, president of The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, stated that prosecutors must contact victims in cases involving multiple victims. This could lead to delays and possibly long pretrial detention times. Andre de Gruy, the state public defender, said that Marsy’s Law wouldn’t add much to Mississippi’s existing protections for victims. John Herzog, the head of the state prosecutors association, did not comment on whether they supported the amendment. Herzog sent an email to Mississippi Today stating that “our prosecutors are dedicated in working with victims of crime in our districts and ensuring their Constitutional rights through the Crime Bill of Rights is upheld and protected.” However, law enforcement groups could still oppose the bill. The Mississippi Association of Chiefs of Police’s Ken Winter stated that the amendment would create a burden for law enforcement agencies charged with its implementation. The law has been challenged in court and sometimes rolled back. Barbour dismissed these setbacks as merely procedural issues in amending the state constitution. The Kentucky state supreme court heard arguments recently in a lawsuit alleging that the bill’s wording is too vague. Mississippi could receive cash if the bill is passed by the Legislature. This would allow Mississippians to vote on the amendment on their ballots between now and March 10, 2020. Winter, head of the group of police chiefs, stated that “This isn’t about victims. It is all about money.” Nicholas spent $72million in 2018 to pass Marsy’s Law across six states, including North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Nicholas, co-founder of the semiconductor company Broadcom Corp. has been charged with drug offenses and faced a lawsuit in which his ex-girlfriend alleged that he had suffered emotional and physical abuse. Wendy Mahoney is the executive director of Mississippi Coalition Against Domestic Violence. She said that Marsy’s Law for All contacted her group early in 2018, but she hasn’t spoken to them since. Mahoney stated, “We want it to be sure that we have looked at the issue based on what’s already in our U.S. Constitution and what are you implementing.” Is it improving what is already there? Is it just increasing the level of what’s already in settled statute? Gunn’s office declined comment because there was a Feb. 14 deadline for general bills to be considered for floor action. To place a constitutional amendment on the ballot, it must be approved by two-thirds of both chambers of Congress. A simple majority of voters would have to approve it. Gunn’s bill was the only piece of legislation that passed the House’s Constitution Committee in this session.