Constitutional protections for crime victims: Ky. is long overdue

By Kristena Morse - Guest columnist

Sarah’s husband was the last person anyone would suspect of being abusive toward her. That’s why Sarah’s family and friends were shocked when she finally came forward to report the physical abuse she had endured.

Sadly, it was then Sarah’s turn to be shocked as she found herself thrown into a criminal justice system geared more toward protecting the rights of the accused than those of the victim.

Sarah was kept in the dark about court proceedings. Throughout the entire criminal justice process, she was not given a voice or a seat at the table.

Unfortunately, Sarah’s story is not unique. While victims’ rights are included in state law, they are not in the state constitution. This means they can be trumped at any time by the constitutionally protected rights of the accused and convicted.

Last week, state legislators in Frankfort took a critical step to address this problem by voting to move Kentucky one step closer to ensuring equality for crime victims. With a vote of 34 to 1, the Kentucky Senate passed Senate Bill 175—legislation sponsored by State Sen. Whitney Westerfield (R-Hopkinsville) that would give Kentucky voters the opportunity to establish a much-needed victims’ bill of rights in the state constitution.

Now, the legislation moves on to the House.

As state director of Marsy’s Law for Kentucky, an advocate-driven effort to support this constitutional amendment, I commend the Kentucky Senate for taking this important step forward. Today, I’m calling on members of the House of Representatives to follow suit and pass Senate Bill 175, as well.

We must not miss this opportunity to put the Marsy’s Law for Kentucky amendment on the ballot in November, giving voters the opportunity to decide whether or not to establish a victims’ bill of rights in the Kentucky Constitution.

Crime has a far-reaching, rippling effect that is not often discussed. Its impact extends far beyond victims, affecting the lives of victims’ families, friends, colleagues and neighbors. We must do a better job of addressing the rights and protections they deserve.

Marsy’s Law for Kentucky would not hinder the rights of the accused or convicted. It would simply make certain that victims and their families are afforded the same constitutionally protected rights.

Marsy’s Law would ensure that victims are notified of any changes in their offenders’ custodial status, and would guarantee victims a voice throughout the criminal justice process. It would also guarantee that victims are informed of their rights and the services available to them, including the right to full and timely restitution.

Kentucky is one of only 18 states that does not currently provide victims with these constitutional protections. This inequality means, at the very least, that victims face unequal representation in our judicial system. At most, it may create a bias toward offenders in the courtroom. And that is the epitome of injustice.

We are long overdue to correct this glaring inequality in our state. I urge those in the House of Representatives to take action and pass Senate Bill 175, Marsy’s Law for Kentucky. Victims like Sarah across the Commonwealth deserve equal rights and a voice in the criminal justice system.

Kristena Morse is state director for Marsy’s Law for Kentucky.

By Kristena Morse

Guest columnist

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