Imagine being confronted by the man who murdered your sister just after visiting her grave. You had assumed the murderer was still in jail. You had assumed that if he ever got released you would be notified. These assumptions were incorrect for the family of Marsy Nicholas, a beautiful, vibrant University of California Santa Barbara student, who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983.
Only a week after the murder, Marsy’s brother and mother walked into a grocery store after visiting Marsy’s grave and were confronted by the accused murderer. They had no idea that he had been released on bail.
Marsy’s family’s story is typical of the pain and suffering the family members of murder victims have endured. They were not informed of the murderer’s whereabouts because the courts and law enforcement, though well-meaning, had no obligation to keep them informed. While criminals have more than 20 individuals rights spelled out in the U.S. Constitution, the surviving family members of murder victims and of other crimes have none.
But the passage of Marsy’s Law in California in 2008 changed all that. Victims of crime in California and the other states that have passed similar measures, must, by law, be treated with respect and dignity by the criminal justice system. Courts must consider the safety of victims and families when setting bail and release conditions. Family members have legal standing in bail hearings, pleas, sentencing and parole hearings.
As of April, 2018, four additional states have passed Marsy’s Law: Ohio, Illinois, North and South Dakota. Six additional states, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Nevada, North Carolina and Oklahoma, will be voting on Marsy’s Law this November. Voters in Montana overwhelming passed Marsy’s Law but in 2017 the Montana Supreme Court voided the vote, saying that Montana voters should have been given the chance to vote on the multiple different provisions of the law individually. The group responsible for encouraging states to pass Marsy’s Law is called Marsy’s Law for All.
“If any good can come of something this horrible – the loss of my sister and the losses of other families of crime victims – it is that these violent acts served as a catalyst for change,” Marsy’s brother said. “Marsy’s Law will provide for a more compassionate justice system for crime victims and make that a constitutional guarantee. Now the momentum can be put behind a U.S. Constitutional Amendment so that the rights of all crime victims, anywhere in America, can be protected.”