Marsy Nicholas was a senior at the University of California at Santa Barbara when her ex-boyfriend, Kerry Conley murdered her in 1983.
One week after Marsy’s murder, her mother, Marcella Leach, walked into a grocery story after visiting her daughters grave. She was confronted by the murderer, Conley. Leach had no idea Conley had been released on bail.
Leach had not been informed of Conley’s release on bail but the California courts and law enforcement did not have an obligation to inform her.
Following Conley’s conviction, Marsy’s brother, Henry, became the primary organizer of the campaign to get Marsy’s Law passed in California as Proposition 9. Then-Governor Pete Wilson called Henry Nicholas the “driving force behind the constitutional amendment.
Illinois and Ohio passed similar amendments. At the moment, Georgia, Hawaii, Montana, South Dakota, Florida, Maine, North Carolina and Nevada are making efforts to introduce the law in their states.
“Marsy’s Law,” a victim’s rights effort named after a young woman who was murdered in California in 1983, aims to close the gap between the rights which victims should have and the rights they actually enjoy.
It’s on Nevada’s November 2018 ballot, but it has gone national.
“Our main goal is to ensure victims across the state are treated the same way regardless of what courtroom they are in,” said Will Batista, the Nevada State Director behind the effort.
Marsy’s Law would add victims’ rights to the state constitution, ensure victims will be treated with respect, have protection from the accused and get notified of proceedings as well as restitution and compensation.
Nevada’s ACLU Director, Tod Story, feels the constitutional change is unnecessary.
“It’s redundant. There are laws on the books already to protect victims in Nevada,” Story said.
Story believes putting victim’s rights in the state constitution may potentially crash into the U.S. Constitution which guarantees the accused certain rights.
“The accused and their rights have to be protected,” added Story. “The defendant may be deprived of their liberty or life.”
In 2015 and 2017 Marsy’s Law passed the state legislature where it is backed by Nevada’s two U.S. Senators, among others. If the law passes in November, it will become law January 1, 2019.
Among its guarantees, the proposed law permits a victim to have information protected and permits victims to “refuse an interview, deposition or other discovery” request by the accused or any person acting for the accused.
“Often, a deposition process is used as a tactic of intimidation against the victim to drop those charges,” said Batista.
“That’s one of the conflicts we’re speaking about,” says Story. “The accused has the right to hear the charges which are brought against them.”
Batista and the ACLU claim the new law would cost the state money.
“What they propose goes above what we currently have,” said Story. According to the ACLU the law’s notification and other mandates would cost Nevada about $2 million annually.
Proponents of the law claim they were careful to craft Marsy’s Law by building on the current victim notification structure already in place.
“We believe it is nominal and is what voters need to know that that doing the right thing will not be cost-prohibitive for us,” responds Batista.
“We believe what currently exists is already enough. We’re not aware of anyone who said otherwise,” says Story.
“If Marsy’s Law passed in Nevada, it will give victim’s a more compassionate justice system,” said Nicholas Wooldridge, a Las Vegas criminal defense attorney. “We can put the momentum behind a U.S. Constitutional Amendment so that victims’ rights are protected anywhere in America.”