Bills of Note: Marsy’s Law

On Jan. 9, 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. Assembly Joint Resolution 1 and Senate Joint Resolution 2, 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. Last session, the bill passed the full legislature with broad bipartisan support.

The legislation is now under “second consideration” of the legislature, which is the next step in the several year process of amending the constitution. For a constitutional amendment change, amendments must be adopted by two consecutive legislatures and then be ratified by the voters in a statewide election. At the hearing this week, the authors explained that the early in the session joint hearing could potentially allow for quick legislative action on the bill, allowing it to be placed on the April ballot.

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. 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.