Bills of Note: Marsy's Law

Bills of Note: Marsy’s Law

On June 15, the Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety and the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety held a joint hearing on a bill that would elevate victims’ rights under Wisconsin law. AJR 47/SJR 53, authored by Rep. Todd Novak (R-Dodgeville) and Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine), proposes a Wisconsin constitutional amendment that would explicitly give to victims rights equal to the rights of the accused. While many of the proposed rights in the bill already exist in Wisconsin’s statutes, the bill would elevate these rights to the state constitution and strengthen those that already exist in the constitution. Similar bills on victims’ rights, commonly known as Marsy’s Law, have already been passed throughout the country.

Among other rights, the bill would add to the constitution:

  • the right for victims to be present and have a voice at all proceedings,
  • the right to receive timely notifications of proceedings upon request,
  • the right to an attorney,
  • the right to refuse an interview, deposition or discovery request,
  • the right to full restitution,
  • and the right to be informed of their rights.

The bill specifies that victims’ rights still may not supersede defendants’ constitutional rights under federal law.

At the bill’s hearing, several victims, victims’ advocates and law enforcement officials spoke about the need to equalize the rights of victims and defendants. Attorney General Brad Schimel, testifying with the bill’s authors, said Wisconsin can do more for victims by passing this bill and making the rights of victims clear and enforceable. Victims spoke about the need to have a voice throughout the criminal justice process and to feel like their rights are valued and enforced as much as defendants’. Law enforcement officials, including Sheriff Jim Johnson on behalf of Badger State Sheriffs Association and Wisconsin Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Association said Wisconsin needs to elevate these rights so that victims can feel safe and protected throughout the legal process.

The resolution would have to pass both chambers of the legislature this session and next session, then be ratified by the people of Wisconsin before it can be officially added to the state’s constitution.