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Marsy’s Law isn’t innocent

ARNO VOSK

Williamsport

On Nov. 5 Pennsylvania’s ballot will include a constitutional amendment popularly called “Marsy’s Law,” also known as the “Crime Victims Rights Amendment.”

This seemingly reasonable amendment, if adopted, would actually undermine our state’s entire system of justice.

Our legal system is based on the presumption of innocence. Any person accused of a crime must be presumed to be innocent. Only if he or she is found guilty by due process, meaning by a judge or jury, does that presumption go away.

The national campaign for Marsy’s Law is being financed by billionaire Henry Nicholas, who sister Marcella was murdered by her boyfriend in 1983. “Victims’ Rights” naturally seems like a good idea to law-abiding citizens who consider that they are more likely to become victims of a crime than they are to be accused of committing one.

Here’s what will be on our ballot: “Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to grant certain rights to crime victims, including to be treated with fairness, respect and dignity; considering their safety in bail proceedings; timely notice and opportunity to take part in public proceedings; reasonable protection from the accused; right to refuse discovery requests made by the accused; restitution and return of property; proceedings free from delay; and to be informed of these rights, so they can enforce them?”

Let’s look at this more carefully. This amendment actually takes away a major part of any person’s presumption of innocence. It substitutes the presumption that a crime has been committed, that the accused person is the one who committed it, that the victim is entitled to refuse discovery requests from the accused, that the victim is entitled to restitution “free from delay”–all preceding any actual legal verdict.

This law is especially prone to abuse by wealthy people able to hire a lawyer, against poor people dependent upon public defense. And, incidentally, it goes against the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the Federal Constitution.

Of course victims of crime deserve protection, but so do people accused of committing a crime. Pennsylvania law already gives rights to crime victims. They can state their case in the legal proceedings. They are entitled to protection from an accused person. They are entitled to seek restitution, but only from someone who has actually been found guilty of a crime against them.

Incidentally, Henry Nicholas, though he has contributed a lot of money to the Episcopal Church and to the arts, has twice been arrested on drug charges, and has been through at least one rehab program.

Marsy’s Law is a well-financed attempt to turn our entire legal system upside down. Law-abiding citizens who care about our constitutional rights should vote against it.

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