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What Is Marsy’s Law?

In 2008, Marsy’s Law was first introduced as a ballot initiative during the 2008 California general election. Titled the “California Victims’ Bill of Rights Act of 2008,” Marsy’s Law sought to expand the legal rights for victims of crimes. After passing Marsy’s Law, California recognized 17 specific rights for victims of crimes.

Marsy’s Law is named after Marsy Nicholas, who was stalked and murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. A week after her murder, Marsy’s family was confronted by her killer at a grocery store. Marsy’s family was unaware that Marsy’s ex-boyfriend was released on bail. This shocking incident motivated Marsy’s brother, Henry Nicholas III, to promote the ideas behind Marsy’s Law. In 2009, Nicholas formed Marsy’s Law for All—an organization championing victims’ rights.

Since then, other states have passed their own version of Marsy’s Law, including Florida in 2018 when it amended the state constitution to recognize a victim’s right to receive notice of all legal proceedings with the accused, in addition to a victim’s right to privacy, to have standing in court, and to enjoy protection against harassment.

Recently, Florida’s county court clerks recommended modifying state court procedures to ensure compliance with the Marsy’s Law amendment.

Among the procedural adjustments Florida's county clerks proposed are:

  • A requirement for law enforcement to file a victim opt-in form at the initiation of a case
  • Authorization for county clerks to redact a victim’s personal information from court documents upon receiving a victim opt-in form or a request for protecting a victim’s personal identifying information
  • Requirements for minimizing victim information through the use of generic indicators (e.g., “victim 1” and “victim 2,” etc.)
  • Required Notice of Confidential Information to identify court documents where a victim’s information is unavoidably present in the filing

Opposition to Marsy’s Law

Proponents of Marsy’s Law point out that the U.S. Constitution recognizes several legal protections for criminal defendants, but does not expressly outline legal protections and rights for victims of crimes.

It is worth noting that the framers of the U.S. Constitution were primarily concerned with fashioning a form of government that could not easily oppress its citizens. In light of that goal, our country’s founders made it a point to establish a constitutional basis against the oppressive exercise of government power in depriving someone of their life, liberty, or property.

Thus, the constitutional rights of the accused are meant to be a shield against the abuse of government power.

As the executive directors of the Iowa Collations Against Domestic Violence and Sexual articulated it in a blog on the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) website, “The accused have constitutional rights because getting it wrong means we imprison innocent people, and an offender remains free to harm others.”

That being said, the collective wisdom of the people should not be ignored. Marsy’s Law seems to reflect the public’s recognition that victims of crimes suffer harms beyond those caused by their assailants, and deserve legal protections accordingly. Justice demands that victims have recourse to preserve their dignity.

However, some critics of Marsy’s Law argue that victims’ rights proponents improperly equate the purpose behind an accused’s constitutional rights, placing them at odds with the victims’ rights. Whereas the rights the constitution affords an accused are meant to protect them from government oppression, the constitutional rights of Marsy’s law differ drastically because they protect victims from the accused. Additionally, opponents assert that the rights under Marsy’s Law are already enshrined under existing states’ victim protection laws.

In another ACLU article, The Political Director for the ACLU of New Hampshire lauded the intent behind Marsy’s law but criticized its execution: “There are many ways that states could better support crime victims: additional resources for services, more education about existing victims’ rights, and improvements to statutory rights. It is false advertising to suggest that the only or best option is through a one-size-fits-all constitutional amendment.”

Despite the ongoing debate over its necessity and practicality, no one can deny that Marsy’s Law is a significant legal measure conceived out of the good intentions of concerned and compassionate citizens. However, it faces a long and possibly bumpy road ahead of it as an amendment to Florida's constitution.

The Virga Law Firm, P.A. Is Ready to Defend Your Rights

As attorneys with experience in the practice of criminal defense, our legal team at The Virga Law Firm, P.A. is dedicated to upholding the U.S. and Florida constitutions and promoting the law. Naturally, we are vigilant about any legal developments that can affect the rights of our clients, such as legislation and ballot measures that concern the constitutional rights of those involved in a criminal case.

To schedule an appointment with one of our skilled lawyers, call The Virga Law Firm, P.A. at (800) 822-5170 or contact us online today.

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